Public will have chance to comment
The ad hoc committee reviewing the compatibility of solar panels with Westernization in Winthrop’s W-3 zone has made some initial recommendations to the Town Council, and the public will have an opportunity to comment on the proposals at a public meeting.
At last week’s Town Council meeting, council member Kirsten Vanderhalf – who along with council member Ben Nelson represents the town council on the ad hoc committee – offered a draft document with four proposals. She recommended that the town host a public meeting to review the proposals on Aug. 22 at the Winthrop Barn, starting at 7 p.m.
Other members of the ad hoc committee are Jacque Wilk, until last week the only remaining member of the Westernization Design Review Board (WDRB); Teri Parker representing the Winthrop Planning Commission; Mark Crum representing the Okanogan County Electic Cooperative; and Rita Kenny, co-owner of Winthrop Mountain Sports, representing the downtown business community.
The proposals are the latest development in a months-long controversy over a request to loosen restrictions on solar power arrays in the town’s W-3 business zone. The proposed ordinance change was intially denied by the WDRB, then subsequently forwarded by the Town Council to the Planning Commission for a public hearing, review and recommendation. The council and Planning Commission had heard arguments both in favor and against the proposed ordinance revision.
The Planning Commission recommended formation of an ad hoc committee to consider whether the code can be amended to allow solar arrays while protecting the integrity of the Westernization code.
A summary of the proposals:
• Solar panels could be allowed in the W-3 district on new construction as long as it’s not visible from either Highway 20 or White Avenue. Solar panel options would be submitted along with building plans and subject to WDRB approval “to ensure appropriate visibility and incorporation in to the western theme.”
• For existing businesses, solar power additions would need to be submitted for approval by the WDRB, also with visibility considerations.
• The town should hold a public meeting, and especially invite property owners in the W-3 district, to “further discuss what is currently happening and where we would like to see the W-3 zone move in to the future.”
• In all Westernization districts, all town-owned properties and projects “must follow the Westernization code and guidelines … we as a town should be the model and be required to follow the code ourselves.”
The last proposal is likely to reignite an issue that the council has dealt with in the past. The Westernization code currently exempts town properties – such as the Winthrop Rink and Winthrop Barn – from its requirements. That has rankled some Westernization supporters, who say the town should set the example and not be the exception. The cost of converting existing buildings to meet Westernization requirements has been cited as the reason the town has exempted itself from the code provisions.
Vanderhalf said the committee will come up with refined wording for the proposals after the public meeting.
Several members of the WDRB recently resigned, leaving the board with only Wilk as a member. In the absence of a functioning WDRB, the Planning Commission has temporarily taken over the board’s responsibilities for administrating the Westernization ordinance. By ordinance, the WDRB must have at least four members.
The council approved the appointment of Rick Jones to the WDRB at its meeting last week. Mayor Sally Ranzau said Jones, who lives in Mazama, is a former school district superintendent who has a strong interest in Westernization (WDRB members aren’t required to reside within the town). Another applicant withdrew, Ranzau said, so the WDRB still needs two more members to become functionl again.
“We’re still working on it,” Ranzau said.