By Marcy Stamper

Two conservation groups have appealed Okanogan County’s environmental determination on the current draft of the county’s comprehensive plan and zoning map, pointing to provisions that could pave over farmland and allow dense housing developments throughout the county.

In the appeal, Methow Valley Citizens’ Council and Futurewise say that state law requires the county to analyze the full future effects of a proposal, regardless of current conditions. The appeal was filed with the Okanogan County commissioners on May 27.

The groups are appealing the final environmental determination on the comp plan made by the county’s planning director under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA). Planning Director Perry Huston issued a determination in May that the comp plan and related documents and maps would not have an adverse effect on the environment. That ruling also withdrew a determination from 2009 that the plan would have environmentally significant consequences for the county.

Under the determination of significance, the county would have had to prepare a formal environmental impact statement [EIS], which entails more in-depth analysis and a comparison of alternatives, including maintaining current conditions.

“That is a particularly important aspect of an EIS, so that residents and property owners can comment on the alternatives, and the county commissioners will have a range of choices in deciding what to do with the comp plan,” said Tim Trohimovich, an attorney with Futurewise who prepared the appeal.

“I would have been completely surprised if we hadn’t gotten an appeal on this,” said County Commissioner Ray Campbell last week.

The appeal gives examples of permitted uses—from multi-family dwellings to air-cargo terminals and asphalt plants — in rural areas throughout the county, and says that the county fails to disclose or analyze these uses in its environmental checklist.

A chart in the appeal shows the number of lots that could be created—and what could be built on them—based on the land-use designations in the plan and the zoning code. Within rural zones, on lots from one to 20 acres, the proposed zoning allows high-density uses that could result in more than 10 million apartments and 1.2 million new lots throughout the county, according to the appeal.

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Disappointed in document

“After seven years of input by the public, it is disappointing to see a document that minimizes both the value of scientific information and the thoughtful work of many citizens toward planning sensible future development,” said MVCC board member Isabelle Spohn.

The appeal contends that the county’s assurances that a review of possible impacts on shorelines or critical areas can wait for a specific project proposal violate a recent land-use ruling. The groups have heightened concerns because the county is behind schedule in updating these other regulations.

The county intends to adopt the interim zoning ordinance along with the comp plan, which would be in effect until the county adopts a final zoning ordinance and map, according to the SEPA checklist on the plan.

The county commissioners will have to hold a hearing on the appeal. They have three main choices—they can deny the appeal, propose mitigations for any environmental effects of the plan, or require an environmental impact statement, according to Trohimovich. There is no deadline for action by the commissioners.

Futurewise is a public-interest group based in Seattle that works to promote healthy communities and protect farmland throughout the state.

This week MVCC filed another appeal against the county’s determination that allowing ATVs to use 600 miles of roads would create no adverse environmental effects. See Environmental groups appeal county’s analysis of ATV impacts.

MVCC has a third lawsuit pending in Okanogan County Superior Court that asks the county to require an automatic environmental review for certain building projects.

The comp plan and related documents are on the county’s web site at www.okanogancounty.org/planning through links in the middle of the page. 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