By Marcy Stamper

The Okanogan County planning commissioners seemed satisfied with changes currently proposed for the county’s zoning, with most suggestions at their meeting on May 2 focused on how to handle nightly rental. They also made some changes to boundaries of the zones on maps for the entire county.

The commissioners have recommended requiring nightly rentals that have been operating without an official permit to comply with new regulations by January 2021, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.

Nightly rentals are currently allowed only in the Methow Review District (from Gold Creek to Mazama) and, within that area, only in planned developments. Planned developments have special zoning that allows people to rent their homes to tourists on a short-term basis.

Some older nightly rentals that have been operating since before the planned-development rule was adopted in the early 1990s are considered “legal nonconforming,” said Huston. The planning commission’s suggestion would require anyone who has been running a legal nonconforming nightly rental to comply with the new rules by getting a conditional-use permit or becoming a planned development by 2021, said Huston.

Anyone who wants to start a brand-new nightly rental in the Methow Review District would have to get a conditional-use permit, which could set requirements to protect neighborhood character, for example. The nightly rental would no longer be required to go through the more involved permitting for a planned development.

Elsewhere in the county, where nightly rentals are currently prohibited, this type of lodging would be allowed outright, although the property owners would have to obtain a permit from the county’s health department. Health department rules for tourist accommodations cover water and septic systems, kitchen and cooking facilities, bathroom and hygiene facilities, fire exits, lighting and trash collection.

The planning commissioners are also considering waiting to complete the section on planned developments, which includes provisions for clustering buildings to preserve open space. The commissioners want more time to review those provisions without delaying the rest of the zoning code, said Huston.

The planning staff will incorporate the planning commission’s recommendations in a draft that will be presented to the county commissioners for their review and another public hearing.

The commissioners and planning director expect to approve a new zoning code — the county’s first revision in 38 years — by the end of June.

The current draft of the zoning code is on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning. People can submit comments until the new code is adopted.