By Ann McCreary
The town of Twisp is poised for unprecedented growth in new residential development if proposals submitted to the town for approval over the past year move forward.
Several applications that would create almost 50 building lots are in various stages of approval by the town.
“It’s definitely the busiest I’ve seen in terms of action to divide property and prepare for development,” said Town Planner Kurt Danison, who began working for Twisp about 33 years ago.
“Twisp probably hasn’t seen this level of activity since the [Wagner] mill was there and there were houses built for the mill employees,” he said.
“This building season looks like it could be fairly significant” if lots are sold and developed, Danison said.
An improving economy, low interest rates, a growing number of people who want to live in a more urban setting, and Twisp’s ability to assure water hookups — at least for a limited amount of development — are cited by property owners and town officials as contributing factors to the increase in development proposals.
Mayor Soo Ing-Moody, a seemingly tireless booster of the town, is excited about the prospect of new homes and residents in Twisp, which has seen little residential development over the past two decades.
“There is a need for housing; there has been for years. The town is a great place to do that, because of the concentration of services,” Ing-Moody said.
“What’s really sparking things is that people are interested in moving into town. There’s ‘walkability’ that allows you to live in town and go to work where the jobs are,” Ing-Moody said.
“There’s an energy in town … with new amenities and infrastructure improvements. It’s a very desirable place to be,” Ing-Moody said.
“Twisp is going to come into its own,” said Vaughn Jolley, a local developer whose 12-lot Isabella Ridge project on a bluff above town got preliminary approval last Tuesday (Jan. 13) from the Town Council.
Jolley said two lots sold this week to local residents, pending final approval of the subdivision by the town.
“A lot of interest is from people who don’t want to be that far out of town, who don’t want a lot of acreage to take care of and want to be closer to services,” Jolley said. “What more do you want than to have a nice view lot and be able to walk to the brew pub?”
Isabella Ridge is the largest of seven developments that have received preliminary or final approval from the town within the past year. It is located on land that was the former athletic field of the old Allen Elementary School.
The project proposes middle-income to high-income homes, constructed under protective covenants “to ensure consistency,” according to documents on file with the town.
Infrastructure work including a private access road, sewer and water lines, irrigation and power service need to be completed prior to final approval and before sales can be finalized.
Jolley said Isabella Ridge is intended to be the first phase of a larger housing development. He has purchased an adjacent 26 acres on the hillside above and to the south of the 12-lot subdivision, and wants to create a planned development for that land. He said he has retained the planner who designed the town of Seabrook, Washington, to help develop plans for the 26 acres.
The ability to move forward with a development of this size will depend on the town’s ability to provide water hookups, Jolley noted.
For more than two decades, the town has struggled with limitations on its legal water rights. Last year the town signed an agreement to purchase water from the Methow Valley Irrigation District (MVID) to provide the town additional year-round water.
The state Department of Ecology approved changes in existing water rights that would allow the agreement to go forward, and issued new water rights that are offset by the changes.
Ecology’s decision was appealed by Okanogan Wilderness League, a local environmental organization founded by Lee Bernheisel and Lucy Reid. The appeal is expected to be heard by the Pollution Control Hearings Board this summer.
Reid is among the property owners with development plans in town. She owns a three-lot parcel on land south of the Isabella Ridge development, on land that was formerly the Allen Elementary School playground. The three-lot plat received final approval from the Town Council in September.
Between the Reid property and Isabella Ridge is a six-lot development owned by Paul Barth of Sacramento, California, on land where the school building stood. That development received preliminary approval in November.
The description of the Barth property on file with the town envisions one-story homes of wood or stucco served by a private road into the property.
Waiting for a while
Another six-lot parcel, owned by Carl and Nancy Hubert and located north of the Idle-A-While motel, has also received preliminary approval. The lots will be accessed by a private road between Burgar Street and Highway 20.
“I’d been sitting on that land since 2004. It’s part of our retirement program,” Carl Hubert said. The Huberts watched the property’s value drop during the recession, but with the economy rebounding they decided to move forward on subdividing the parcel from three lots to six.
“The people who are going to buy the houses need financing. There’s never been a more favorable time, with 3- to 4-percent interest rates,” Hubert said. “Seattle is booming and it trickles down our way. That’s why we decided to start the long plat process a year ago. We’re striving for affordable homes.”
Also in the works are two short plat subdivisions of two lots each, Danison said. One is owned by Gretchen Dieringer and located on East Twisp Avenue, about a block east of Lincoln Street.
Another two-lot parcel on Marble Street, owned by Traci Day and Saul Labanauskas, is in the public review phase, Danison said.
A project that has been in the works since 2012 would create 17 cottages designed for senior living on property owned by Joe and Beverly Jensen next to the medical clinic on Second Avenue.
The development has preliminary approval from the town, but has stalled due to an unresolved issue over costs of relocating CenturyLink phone lines, said John Hayes, a land use planner who is advising the Jensens.
When that issue is resolved, work on infrastructure can move forward, followed by construction of a model residence — hopefully by this summer, Hayes said.
“The economy is really good, and these things are needed,” Hayes said.
The need for affordable housing in Twisp and throughout the Methow Valley was made even more apparent in the wake of the Carlton Complex Fire, which displaced many valley families, Ing-Moody said.
“There was a huge shortage when people were looking for homes temporarily,” she said.
“All of these projects are going to offer something the valley hasn’t had for a long time, because it’s become so exclusive with minimum zoning requirements outside the towns,” Jolley said. “It takes middle America out of equation.”