By Marcy Stamper
It’s too early to say whether Okanogan County’s comprehensive plan protects water and farmland, since it’s necessary to see how the county’s zoning code handles these and other issues connected with growth, wrote Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Christopher Culp in an order issued March 11.
Culp heard oral arguments in December in the case, which was brought by the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC) and Futurewise.
The final program to implement the new comp plan is a work in progress and will be set forth in the zoning ordinance, wrote Culp.
“A ‘Comprehensive Plan’ is only a ‘beginning step’ in planning for the physical development of the county,” wrote Culp. “Until the final product is known there are necessarily questions … about what provisions it will contain and whether those comply with state law.”
“Likewise, the county is not entitled to dismissal as three property owners present genuine issues … regarding potential adverse effects of the comprehensive plan on water wells. … [T]he trier of fact will have to determine whether the final zoning ordinance protects their rights by including provisions adequate to protect the quality and quantity of ground water,” he wrote.
The plaintiffs claim the county’s comprehensive plan and accompanying interim zoning code allow for more development than the county’s limited water supply can support, in both quantity and quality. MVCC and Futurewise also charge that the plan does not protect citizens and infrastructure from wildfire.
“It looks like a tie for the moment. We are encouraged that Judge Culp will be looking hard at water quality and water quantity, and whether the zone code protects critical public resources,” Maggie Coon, chair of the MVCC board, said in a statement about the ruling. The organization has made no decision about a possible appeal.
“The comp plan is a blueprint, and the judge’s decision kind of acknowledges this,” said Sandy Mackie, special counsel for Okanogan County. “You can’t really tell what the comp plan is until you see what the zoning is all about.”
The county has argued that the comp plan is not a regulatory tool and that water, fire and other issues connected with growth will be addressed in the new zoning ordinance, which is still under review.
Because Culp decided not to rule on the record, the next phase will involve discovery and testimony from witnesses, said Mackie.
The next hearing on the draft zoning ordinance, before the county’s planning commission, is on Monday (March 28).