By Marcy Stamper
The environmental impact statement (EIS) on the county’s new zoning code is backed up by 21 attachments, such as maps, population estimates and an overview of county employment patterns.
But the attachments also include two documents with less-traditional information — the names of all board members and staff of the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and information about their homes and property.
One of the two documents reprints biographical information and photos from the environmental group’s website. It also reproduces maps from the county’s registry of property owners, complete with parcel numbers and maps of the property each board member owns.
The other document summarizes their property, listing acreage, buildings and other improvements, and provides data on adjacent properties.
The two attachments were included as links on the Okanogan County Planning Department’s website with other zoning materials. After MVCC members noticed the attachments containing the personal information earlier this month, they asked the county to remove the links, said Brian de Place, MVCC’s executive director.
The county removed the links within the next day, de Place said. The website now states that the attachments are available upon request.
Because MVCC sued the county over the environmental impact of the comp plan, the plaintiffs must show a specific injury to bring an environmental challenge under the state’s Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), said Sandy Mackie, special counsel for Okanogan County. Bringing a case under SEPA imposes a higher bar for plaintiffs to show standing, he said.
Mackie said that the information in the two attachments is part of establishing a record for the court. Mackie said Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Chris Culp had linked the comp plan and the zoning code in the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs must have “injury in fact” to have standing — it cannot be simply hypothetical, said Mackie. “It’s part of creating a document record for the judge, who gave them special standing,” said Mackie.
“If they feel we don’t have standing, that’s an argument to make to the judge,” said de Place. “The EIS does not seem the place to make that legal argument.”
The judge said he would rule on zoning, not the comp plan, so the county researched the status of MVCC board members’ and staff’s property to see if the new zoning changed anything for their individual situations, said Mackie. They wanted to see if there was something unique about where they live that had changed, he said.
“It seems like a tenuous argument, since the point of an EIS is for the general public to comment and to provide feedback about a proposal to policymakers,” said de Place. “I’ve seen a lot of EISes in my day, and I’ve never seen one that posts information like that.”
The information compiled in the two documents is publicly available, on MVCC’s website and the county assessor’s website, but it usually requires some searching and is not gathered in one place, said de Place. “It doesn’t seem to be a good use of public resources to be searching public records for individual people’s addresses. It’s irresponsible,” he said.
‘Show your work’
Among the attachments are development agreements for specific projects, including Silver Spur, a large resort community near Brewster and Nordic Village in Mazama. They also include some agreements that had been proposed to the county but were rejected, such as one for the Skalitude retreat near Carlton.
“It’s ‘show-your-work’ stuff,” said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston. The development agreements are examples of how the county regulates water or assures adequate ingress and egress in the case of a wildfire, he said.
Culp declined earlier this year to rule on MVCC’s claims that the comp plan did not adequately protect water resources and farmland, saying it was necessary to wait and see how the issue was addressed in the county’s zoning code.
Both MVCC and Okanogan County acknowledged the importance of the zoning code, but take different approaches. MVCC and Futurewise said state law requires the comp plan and zoning to be consistent but that deficiencies in the comprehensive plan cannot be “fixed” in zoning.
The county contended that the comp plan is a blueprint for development and that water and other environmental issues would be addressed in the new zoning code.
Culp had urged the parties to work together to revise the comp plan to address water issues, but Okanogan County rejected the suggestion, concerned it would accord the plaintiffs a “special status” in the proceedings, Mackie said at the time.