Methow Valley residents have never been shy about voicing their opinions when it comes to how things are governed here. Sometimes their persistence and practicality make an impact.
Such was the case last week when the Okanogan County Planning Commission recommended against allowing sizable building projects in the Methow Valley to proceed without an environmental review.
For more than 30 years the Methow has operated under more stringent environmental review policies for building projects than the rest of the county. The county commissioners had asked the planning commission to consider making reviews consistent throughout the county. That action was in keeping with updated environmental review policies under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA).
The effect of loosening review standards would be dramatic in the Methow Valley. For instance, the new rules would allow single-family housing projects of up to 20 units to proceed without an environmental review, compared to four units now.
About 75 valley residents told the planning commission they would not like to see the SEPA requirements changed here. The commission received very little additional input about the proposed changes from inside or outside the valley.
That doesn’t mean that everyone in the Methow agrees – but it does mean that the people who care the most made their opinions clear. That takes some effort and intent. We hope the county commissioners will take that into account when they consider the planning commission’s recommendation.
The Methow’s considered response ought to count for something. The planning commission is listening. Will the county commissioners?
Over the past few years, the Town of Twisp and the chamber of commerce have worked hard to dispel the notion that Twisp is a convenient drive-through rather than a tourism destination. Promoting and supporting the town’s overnight lodging providers, restaurants and other attractions has been part of that effort.
So it seems consistent that the town council, on the planning commission’s recommendation, recently changed zoning restrictions to allow more overnight lodging in commercial areas. It won’t be as simple as dressing up a guest room for visitors. The town still has a list of requirements for overnight lodging providers.
Some folks in those commercial districts are surely happy about the town’s action. But you have to wonder how it will affect existing lodging operations that are already working hard to keep their rooms full. It remains to be seen whether more competition will be good for everyone. Will more lodging options dilute the market for everyone, or help create a critical mass for stay-overs to make a difference?
In the long run, it’s likely that more options – meaning more choices for the wide spectrum of Methow Valley visitors – will have a positive impact. Twisp has much to offer. Sharing it with a few more visitors could be not only neighborly but also good for the local economy.