By Marcy Stamper
After Okanogan County rejected a judge’s suggestion of using a year-long extension to resolve a lawsuit over the county’s comprehensive plan, lawyers for the county and the two environmental groups that appealed the plan will each have to propose a resolution by this Friday (Jan. 15).
Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Christopher Culp suggested after hearing oral arguments in December that the county and the plaintiffs, Methow Valley Citizens’ Council (MVCC) and Futurewise, work together to revise the plan to be sure it protects water and agriculture but still allows the county to grow.
On Friday (Jan. 8), the attorney for Okanogan County said the county commissioners were not interested in an extension, according to Tim Trohimovich, attorney for MVCC and Futurewise. Trohimovich said he had asked Sandy Mackie, the county’s attorney, if they could talk about a potential role for MVCC and Futurewise if they agreed on the extension.
“The reason we didn’t agree is we were uncomfortable putting the citizens’ council in a special position with regard to everyone else when working on the zoning ordinance,” said Mackie this week.
The county is currently working on an update of its zoning code, which applies concepts from the comp plan to specific geographic areas throughout the county. In December, the commissioners extended the zoning deadline to June 22.
“Our whole point is, all of their concerns — water, agriculture, Firewise protections — deal with regulatory issues. Those will be addressed in the zoning and other regulatory tools,” such as documents covering critical areas and shorelines, said Mackie.
MVCC was willing to consider a stay if there were “specific milestones and off-ramps” in case the zoning discussions went nowhere, the group said in a statement to its members on Monday (Jan. 11).
Any extension would have had to provide a mechanism for ending negotiations if there was no progress in addressing MVCC’s concerns, said Phil Millam, vice chair of the MVCC board. MVCC did not believe it would be enough to simply be open to talking, he said.
“We are disappointed but not surprised that Okanogan County has rejected a stay in the legal proceedings, and in so doing rejected the opportunity for a dialogue that might get us out of the litigation cycle,” MVCC told its membership.
In proposing the extension, Culp had said it might be prudent — and be a better use of attorney fees — “to work in a spirit of cooperation, instead of litigation.”
But working with the county to resolve differences would also have cost both sides money, since they would need their lawyers at the table, said Millam.
At the December hearing on the case, Culp asked each side — if they couldn’t agree to an extension — to prepare a final order outlining a resolution of the case. He said he had never made such a request but thought it would help him better articulate his decision, given the complexity and importance of the matter.
Mackie said they would make clear in their proposed order that MVCC and Futurewise are not precluded from raising their concerns in public input on the zoning ordinance and accompanying environmental impact statement (EIS). “What they gain in the order is clarification that all the issues they have raised will be addressed in the EIS,” he said.
Culp said he would issue his decision by Jan. 29.