By Marcy Stamper
Two months after they adopted a new comprehensive plan and then put it on hold for reconsideration, the Okanogan County commissioners are satisfied that new public comments do not change their conviction that the plan establishes a solid policy for the county’s growth.
None of the comments they have received since the beginning of the year have any bearing on his initial decision to adopt the plan, said County Commissioner Ray Campbell at their hearing on Monday (Feb. 23).
“I think we did our diligence to engage in public comment — a second go-around,” said Campbell. “I think we should move forward.”
Planning Director Perry Huston presented the commissioners with two basic choices at the hearing — to do something different because of new information or to ratify their original decision. Huston said the commissioners had decided to reconsider the plan because they had not taken public comment at the December hearing before adopting it.
The resolution to reconsider did not explicitly include the other documents adopted along with the plan — two sections that provide special planning for the Methow Valley and Upper Methow Valley, an interim zoning code, and related maps.
“The comments we have received don’t necessarily fall under the comp plan, but are things we can address under another one of the million plans we’re working on,” said Commissioner Sheilah Kennedy.
Huston confirmed that issues raised by the public, such as tying density and lot sizes to water availability, are important. “It’s all important,” he said. “It’s just not as finely detailed in the comp plan as some would like.”
These matters will be addressed in other documents the county is currently updating, said Huston. For example, water protections will be in the Shoreline Master Program and flood management will be in the Critical Areas Ordinance, he said.
The plan adopted in December — which will become the county’s new blueprint for how it wants to grow — is, at 36 pages, considerably streamlined from the first draft a former board of county commissioners began tackling in 2008. That version was 158 pages long, with tables, statistics and considerable detail.
The revised plan simplifies the county’s land-use designations to five — city, rural/high-density, rural resource/low-density, rural resource/recreation, and tribal lands. Previous drafts had included as many as 22 categories of land use.
The plan provides for “more completely planned areas,” which are the basis for the two separate plans for the Methow Valley. The Methow Valley plan covers the area from Gold Creek to a bit north of Winthrop and the Upper Methow Valley plan goes from north of Winthrop to Mazama. These sections have also been updated from existing plans.
“I’m comfortable and pleased with what we adopted. I would like to ratify that,” said Campbell after the commissioners’ brief discussion. The commissioners unanimously directed Huston to prepare new documents so they can ratify their adoption of the plan.
Still, that may not be the end of the county’s efforts to have a new comp plan for the first time in more than 50 years. There is a pending appeal of both the comp plan and zoning code, filed in Okanogan County Superior Court in January by the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council and Futurewise. The appeal claims protections of water resources and agricultural and forest lands are inadequate. No date has been set for the hearing.
The commissioners have continued their public hearing for adoption of the plan to Monday, March 9, at 4 p.m.