Proposal will get a public hearing in July

By Marcy Stamper

Okanogan County appears to be close to having its first new zoning code in 38 years, now that the county’s planning commissioners have made their final changes to sections regulating nightly rentals and marijuana operations.

The commissioners have also made changes to the requirements for planned unit developments, which are special zones where buildings are grouped to preserve open space.

The planning commissioners signed off on the latest draft of the code on June 16, sending it to the county commissioners for their review and a public hearing.

How to regulate nightly rentals and marijuana operations has been the most debated issues as the county reworks the code, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.

The new draft proposes permitting nightly rentals everywhere in the county except for the Methow Review District, which runs from Gold Creek to Mazama. Under existing zoning, nightly rentals have not been allowed anywhere in the county except in special planned developments in the Methow Review District.

The new draft still requires a planned development for nightly rentals in the Methow Review District. In earlier drafts, county planners had contemplated allowing them elsewhere if people obtained a conditional-use permit.

The proposal to expand opportunities for nightly rentals in the Methow raised concern from operators of regular tourist accommodations. Others were concerned that allowing people to rent out their homes on a short-term basis would affect the character of a neighborhood and reduce the already limited supply of affordable housing.

Cannabis operations

In the new draft, the planning commissioners have revised the section on marijuana to distinguish between different types of cannabis operations.

Cannabis operations will no longer be considered agriculture and operators of cannabis businesses will have to obtain a conditional-use permit countywide.

Cannabis operations will have to have a lawful source of water and comply with certain provisions regarding dust and odor. All outdoor lighting, including security lighting, will have to be downcast and shielded from neighboring properties.

In the case of violations, the permit for a cannabis business may be suspended until corrections are made. It could be terminated if there are repeat violations.

Legal cannabis operations that predate the new zoning code will be considered legally pre-existing and will be grandfathered in. Unlike in previous drafts of the zoning code, there is no specific requirement for cannabis operations to be compatible with the character of the surrounding neighborhood.

The new draft includes detailed changes about how space must be allocated to cluster structures and preserve open space in a planned development. At least 75 percent of a planned development must be set aside as open space. There are also minimum acreages before a developer can create a planned development.

In the Methow Review District, there are additional requirements for water supply and the size of irrigated lawns in planned developments.

The latest draft of the zoning code, dated June 16, is available on the planning commission’s website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning. It is marked up so that people can see what has been changed since the previous working draft.

The county commissioners will hold a public hearing on the code in July but a date has not been set yet. Comments may be sent to the commissioners at ljohns@co.okanogan.wa.us, or people can testify at the hearing.