Westernization debate ‘out-of-hand,’ Ranzau says

By Don Nelson

Winthrop Mayor Sally Ranzau has weighed in on a proposed amendment to the town’s Westernization code, suggesting possible alternatives to changes that would loosen restrictions on solar power arrays in one Westernization zone.

Ranzau read a statement at the end of last week’s Town Council meeting, supporting Westernization as Winthrop’s “economic driver” and lamenting that the solar array proposal has turned into a controversy that “has gotten out of hand.”

The Winthrop Planning Commission held a public hearing on Tuesday (April 10) to consider the proposed amendment to the town’s Westernization ordinance. The Planning Commission will pass its recommendation on the Town Council for action.

The proposal is to amend the ordinance to allow solar panel arrays on building roofs that are visible from anywhere but Highway 20 within the W-3 business district.

The W-3 district generally extends along both sides of Highway 20 south of the Methow River bridge. Currently, the Westernization ordinance would allow solar arrays if they were not visible from Highway 20, but prohibits solar installations if they could be viewed from a public right-of-way such the Susie Stephens Trail or adjacent town streets.

The town’s Westernization Design Review Board had earlier review the request and unanimously recommended that the council reject the ordinance amendment proposal.

The proposal has generated passionate discussion by supporters and detractors at recent council meetings.

In her statement, the mayor said, “I believe solar power is an important component for progress and sustainability in the town of Winthrop. However, Westernization is the economic driver of Winthrop. The reality is Winthrop relies on tourism tax dollars. Westernization is a large component for bringing tourists to our town. Changing the Westernization code may seem like a small thing but it is not. There is passion and arguments on both sides of this issue … frankly, this has gotten out-of-hand. Solar is allowed in Winthrop.”

“I would like to suggest an alternative path,” the mayor added.

Ranzau suggested that businesses in Westernization districts that support solar power could team up to build a solar array on town property “for the benefit and greater good for the community.” Another possibility, she said, could be a solar project at Liberty Bell High School. “It could be education for the students and a financial benefit to the entire district,” Ranzau said.

“I have talked with the [Okanogan County] Electric Co-op,” Ranzau added. “Funds are available, all we need is a point person or organization to handle donations and details.

“We, as a community and the town council, need to embrace Westernization as the economic driver it is and plan for the future with alternative energy. Let’s stop fighting and work together.”

The ordinance was substantially updated with council approval in May 2017. The proposed amendment would be the first major revision since then.

In other business at last week’s meeting:

• Ranzau reported that she and council member Joseph O’Driscoll are nearing agreement on a five-year contract with the Winthrop Auditorium Association to operate the Winthrop Barn. The town owns the Barn building, but the association handles operations, booking and other day-to-day requirements. A 25-year agreement between the town and the nonprofit association is expiring.

• Ranzau updated the council on efforts to find a replacement for Public Works Director Rick Karro, who is retiring. She said the town has received three applications, two of which are local. Interviews were to start this week, she said.

• The council heard about potential options for installing a light fixture atop the flagpole in Mack Lloyd Park to illuminate the flags mounted there.

• Council member Bill McAdow was appointed to be the town’s representative on the Methow Watershed Council.

• The council approved an interagency agreement for an energy usage reduction program with the state Department of Enterprise Services.

• The council agreed to consider, at its April 18 meeting, several recommended changes to the town’s zoning code that were forwarded by the Planning Commission. The recommendations are related to standards for accessory dwelling units and manufactured homes, and residential setbacks for parking.