By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County citizenry may receive a holiday gift that has been many years in the making, since the county commissioners have scheduled a hearing to consider adoption of the county’s comprehensive plan on Dec. 22.
After more than a dozen drafts over eight years, the comp plan — the philosophy underpinning how the county will grow, what business and agricultural activities to encourage and the infrastructure necessary to support this growth — may be close to final adoption.
The version of the plan the commissioners will consider was released in May. It includes special sections for the Methow Valley and for the Upper Methow Valley (the area around Mazama) called “more completely planned areas,” based on two existing plans for the Methow Valley from 1976 and 2000, respectively. The county’s overall comprehensive plan is from 1964.
The two Methow Valley plans, which reflect local concerns and implement special zoning that coincides with these goals and policies, will also be up for adoption, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston.
The comp plan contains provisions for other county regions to form more completely planned areas if they want different policies from those applied countywide.
The commissioners will also be asked to adopt the land-use designation map, based on the comp plan, and an interim zoning code, said Huston.
The zoning code applies the general philosophies from the comp plan to individual lots throughout the county, setting out the minimum lot size and the types of activities permitted (everything from beekeeping through airports through restaurants and retail shops).
The interim zoning code is only intended to be in effect for six months, said Huston. The county’s planning commission will begin review of the permanent zoning code and accompanying map in the spring, said Huston.
A separate code governing subdivisions will probably be reviewed along with the zoning code, but the planning commission could decide to wait until the zoning code is completed, said Huston.
The revised comp plan simplifies the county’s land-use designations to five — city, rural/high-density (generally areas with lots of one acre or less), rural resource/low-density (most privately owned land in the county, where minimum lot sizes are between five and 20 acres), rural resource/recreation (most state and federal lands), and tribal lands.
At the previous hearing on the latest draft of the comp plan, many people wanted clarification in the two Methow plans. They asked for more precise geographical boundaries and an update of the information, since the Methow Valley plan still includes data on population, subdivisions and agriculture from the 1970s.
Recent comments urge the commissioners to incorporate policy to protect against the risk of wildfire and associated landslides, particularly following this summer’s severe fires and floods.
Shorelines, critical areas
Once they have adopted the comp plan, the commissioners will turn their attention to several other documents intended to work in tandem with it. The Shoreline Master Program and the Critical Areas Ordinance create more specific regulations about land use in environmentally sensitive areas.
The planning department is currently doing the environmental review of the county’s shoreline regulations. That document will come before the planning commission in January and then be submitted to the state Department of Ecology for review, said Huston.
The Critical Areas Ordinance would most likely come after the zoning code, said Huston. Because the Critical Areas Ordinance has already been through public hearings, if there are no changes the county commissioners could take it up for adoption next, he said.
Public process for comp plan
The commissioners are still accepting written public input on the comp plan and the two Methow Valley sections. The most recent draft of the plan is available on the planning commission website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning.
Comments can be sent to email@example.com or can be presented in writing at the commissioners’ hearing.
The commissioners’ hearing is Monday (Dec. 22) at 3 p.m. in their hearing room in Okanogan. The commissioners will be taking oral testimony on the interim zoning ordinance only, said Huston.