Sections on Methow Valley get some updates but still have old data

By Marcy Stamper

Comprehensive planning is right up there with the wonkiest of bureaucratic undertakings, obscure enough that ordinary citizens often find it difficult to wrap their heads around it.

But a comp plan can have very real impacts on the ground—it can affect how many neighbors you have or what kinds of business activities take place down the road. It also can influence the availability of water and farmland in the future.

After seven years of work and more than a dozen drafts, the Okanogan County commissioners and planning staff appear to be close to finalizing the first update of the county’s comp plan in 50 years. The plan outlines the philosophy for how the county will grow, what business and agricultural activities to encourage and the roads and other infrastructure that will be needed.

Last week the county released a new draft plan and related documents and gave the public 30 days to review them. In addition to the revised draft of the comp plan, there are special sections for the Methow Valley and for Mazama.

Also included are maps showing current land use; a chart listing permissible business activities; and a preliminary zoning map, which shows how the comp plan would work on the ground. Zoning takes the concepts set out in the comp plan and applies them to specific land uses.

Supplementing all of this is the county’s analysis of the environmental effect of the new plan when compared with the one from 1964.

When Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston last reviewed a draft of the comp plan and related documents in 2009, he determined that changes in the plan could have significant environmental effects. Huston has now withdrawn that conclusion and replaced it with a determination that “the new plan changes do not create a reasonable probability of more than a moderate impact on the environment.”

After reviewing comments about the initial environmental review and creating the interim zoning map, Huston said he found there would be no increase in the density of development and therefore no adverse environmental impacts. In fact, many areas throughout the county are likely to be zoned for lower-density development, he said.

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Simplified areas

The plan opens with a statement of the county’s vision. “What remains consistent is the independent spirit of our citizens and a universal belief in our constitutional rights. … This Plan is driven by the common belief that in preserving the future for generations to come, we must act wisely today,” it reads.

The plan recognizes four main jurisdictions: public lands managed by the state or federal government, tribal lands, urban areas managed by cities, and the remainder—22 percent—managed by the county. The comp plan primarily covers the lands under county jurisdiction, which includes unincorporated towns such as Mazama and Carlton.

The new plan simplifies land-use designations to five—city, rural/high-density (generally areas with lots of one acre or less), rural resource/low-density (most privately owned land in the county, where minimum lot sizes are between five and 20 acres), rural resource/recreation (most state and federal lands), and tribal lands.

The plan also provides for what are called “More Completely Planned Areas,” which will cover the Methow Valley and the Upper Methow Valley (the area around Mazama). Planning for these areas draws on two existing plans for the Methow Valley, which reflect local concerns and implement zoning that coincides with these goals and policies.

When the Okanogan County planning commissioners reviewed the plan last summer, they directed Huston and the planning department to clarify these two sections of the Methow. The new draft says that the Methow sections have been reviewed and revised along with the comp plan and will be adopted after the overall comp plan has been approved by the county commissioners.

The sections devoted to the Methow Valley and to Mazama have been carried forward from the existing documents, which date from 1976 and 2000, respectively. “This current update of the master plan incorporates minor, non-substantive edits intended to clarify some elements and to eliminate outdated references,” according to the draft plan for the Upper Methow, also called Sub-Unit A.

The plan that covers the overall Methow Valley (with the same boundaries as the school district) carries forward the goals and policies from when it was first developed in the 1970s. It also contains data on population, subdivisions, agriculture and logging from that period. The commissioners envision appointing a new advisory committee to work on an update, according to the plan.

The Methow Valley More Completely Planned Area describes four sub-units—basically Mazama, Winthrop, Twisp, and the area from Twisp to Gold Creek—and the potential for development in each. It concludes that Mazama has the greatest potential for future development and is the most environmentally fragile. The area south of Twisp is said to be the farthest from the impacts of potential development and the most agriculturally productive. Most of these conclusions appear to be retained from the old plans.

Both Methow plans state community preferences for construction styles, lighting and fire-prevention measures. They outline planning consistent with goals for preserving open space and a recreation-oriented economy.

At present the only more completely planned areas are in the Methow, but the comp plan provides criteria, such as logical natural boundaries and the interest of landowners, for creating new more completely planned areas elsewhere in the county.

 

Ag, mining, forestry

The county is required to designate adequate land to preserve a viable agricultural economy. The plan envisions most agriculture taking place in the rural resource/low-density areas, although public lands classified as rural resource/recreation would be used for grazing and forestry. An overlay shows areas for mining.

The plan and related documents are available at www.okanogancounty.org/planning (use the links in the middle of the page, not in the tab at the top). Comments on the environmental analysis may be submitted to phuston@co.okanogan.wa.us through June 16. After that, a final environmental determination will be issued and a public hearing will be scheduled before the county commissioners.

Comments on the comp plan itself will be accepted through the commissioners’ final hearing. Those comments should be sent to ljohns@co.okanogan.wa.us.

For more information, call (509) 422-7218.