By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County commissioners are reviewing a revised version of a new ordinance that would consolidate procedures for land use and development, including countywide policies like the comprehensive plan, zoning and subdivisions.
Part of the review will include consideration of any potential impacts in Okanogan County of a recent state Supreme Court decision that found Whatcom County has a responsibility to ensure there is enough water for streams and fish before allowing new development, according to Perry Huston, Okanogan County’s planning director.
The commissioners and staff are reviewing the Whatcom County ruling to see if affects counties’ responsibilities when issuing building and other development permits, said Huston.
In addition to covering the comp plan and zoning, the earlier draft of Okanogan County’s proposed ordinance would have applied to roads and bridges, water and sewers, and development regulated by the state’s Shoreline Master Program. These types of projects have been eliminated.
The revised draft also changes the approach to “vesting” — that is, the date that would be used even if policies change after an application has been filed. In the revised ordinance, a new determination will be required to ensure an application is complete.
Okanogan County’s development-permit ordinance is intended to consolidate the procedures for application, review and approval of land-use projects by listing requirements and procedures in one place, according to the document.
The Supreme Court justices determined that Whatcom County failed to comply with the requirements of the Growth Management Act (GMA) to protect water resources. The ruling found that by allowing new subdivision and building permits to use permit-exempt wells, Whatcom County failed to protect instream flows from the impacts of drawing water from these wells.
The ruling states that counties must make decisions regarding the legal and physical availability of water when allowing new development, according to the Washington Department of Ecology, which manages water resources for the state.
Permit-exempt wells allow up to 5,000 gallons a day for a single-family home, watering of a garden, and irrigation or industrial uses.
While Okanogan County does not plan under the GMA, in an email last week Huston said, “We are reviewing the Whatcom County ruling to see if it has any bearing on the proposal.”
In a statement about the ruling, Ecology said the agency is still studying the impact of the Whatcom County ruling on other counties.
The case against Whatcom County was filed by Futurewise, an environmental organization that is also a plaintiff in lawsuits that allege Okanogan County’s recently adopted comp plan and zoning code do not protect water resources. Those cases are still in court.
The public hearing on the development permit ordinance is Monday (Nov. 7) at 1:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room in Okanogan.
A copy of the new draft is available on the Planning Department’s website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning (see “Updated draft for continued hearing on October 10, 2016, next to “Draft Title 20: Development Permit Procedures and Administration”). The earlier draft, from Aug. 29, is also available on the website.
People can testify at the hearing or can submit written comments to Laleña Johns at email@example.com.