By Don Nelson

In the absence of a functioning Westernization Design Review Board (WDRB), the Winthrop Planning Commission will temporarily take over the board’s responsibilities.

At its meeting last week, the Winthrop Town Council approved an ordinance that permits the Planning Commission to assume the WDRB’s duties until the group has enough members to resume its activities as administrator of the town’s Westernization code.

Recent resignations left the WDRB with only one member. By ordinance, the WDRB must have at least four members.

Mayor Sally Ranzau said she didn’t expect the temporary arrangement to be a long-term solution. She said some people have expressed an interest in serving on the WDRB, but haven’t filed application letters with the town yet.

“I’m very confident we’ll find people,” the mayor said. She said the town is looking for WDRB members who support Westernization and who “are able to compromise and look to the future.”

The mayor’s mention of “compromise” referenced a months-long controversy over a proposal to loosen restrictions on solar power arrays in the town’s W-3 zone. The proposed ordinance change was denied by the WDRB, then subsequently forwarded by the Town Council to the Planning Commission for a public hearing, review and recommendation. The council and Planning Commission heard arguments both in favor and against the proposed ordinance revision.

The Planning Commission recommended formation of an ad hoc committee to consider whether the code can be amended to allow solar arrays while protecting the integrity of the Westernization code. The council agreed to form a committee, which included Town Council members Kirsten Vanderhalf and Ben Nelson, Planning Commission member Teri Parker, business owner Rita Kenny, Mark Crum, and Kristen Smith representing the WDRB.

Nelson said the ad hoc committee met recently and is making progress toward a recommendation. “We had a good discussion and are moving forward,” he said.

Kenny told the council that, regarding the directions to the ad hoc committee, “I don’t see it as insurmountable … we need to step up to the plate and address the issues.”

Smith recently resigned from the WDRB. She also has resigned as the town’s marketing director, a position she has held for several years, Ranzau said at last week’s council meeting. The town contracts with the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce to provide marketing planning and outreach efforts.

As well, when her resignation takes effect Smith will no longer be part of the Lodging Tax Advisory Committee (LTAC), according to council member Bill Kilby, an LTAC member. Smith said she will stay on in the marketing role until Aug. 31 to facilitate transition.

In a memo to the LTAC summarizing the growth in the town’s hotel/motel tax revenues over the past several years, Smith said that “in light of this success, I would like to provide the LTAC and the Winthrop Chamber with my resignation. It has been a great ride promoting the neatest little town in America.”

Smith provided figures and projections showing that, by the end of 2018, the town’s hotel tax revenue will have doubled since 2011.

Smith is also marketing director for Methow Trails.