By Marcy Stamper
Okanogan County’s proposed comprehensive plan will not result in significant environmental impacts, and growth in the county can be expected to remain very slow, said the county’s hearing examiner in a decision on an appeal of the environmental review of the plan.
Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee said other county policies will provide adequate environmental analysis and protection from any potential impacts of future development. He issued his decision on Sunday (Nov. 16).
Beardslee issued the ruling in response to an appeal by two environmental organizations, the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC) and Futurewise, who argued that the county had not done a thorough environmental analysis of the plan. The appellants contended that the plan fails to protect the groups’ members from the impacts of dense new development and that it does not preserve scarce resources for uses including residential development and agriculture.
Beardslee said the appellants had not met the standard of review, which requires them to show that the determination by the county’s planning director that the plan would not cause a “probable significant environmental impact” was clearly erroneous. The planning director should be granted substantial latitude in conducting the environmental analysis, said Beardslee.
Because the comp plan is not an official control but rather a guide to adopting such controls, Beardslee did not accept the plaintiffs’ contention that the plan would allow up to 10 million new housing units and more growth than water and other resources can support. “Based on available data, growth in Okanogan County is very slow. The level of growth suggested by the appellant is more fantastic than probable,” wrote Beardslee.
“The appellant argues that the proposed comprehensive plan update will dramatically increase development in Okanogan County, but then, ironically, argues that such development cannot be supported due to lack of water, transportation infrastructure and other services,” he wrote.
Beardslee also noted that the county’s proposed zoning ordinance, which was also questioned in the appeal, is just an interim document. Final zoning will be subject to its own environmental review, he said.
He also rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that increased hazards made evident by the Carlton Complex Fire needed to be taken into account in creating a new comp plan.
“MVCC is disappointed but not surprised by the decision of the Okanogan County hearings examiner…. There will be another opportunity for the public, and MVCC, to weigh in… before the county commissioners make their final decision,” said MVCC in a statement about the decision.
The commissioners have scheduled a hearing to consider the comp plan on Dec. 22 at 3 p.m. in their hearing room in Okanogan.