A developer has submitted an application to Okanogan County to develop 120 acres into 24 residential lots on both sides of Elbow Coulee Road near the entrance to Pine Forest.
The application for Hummingbird Heaven Hideaway has been prepared as six separate short plats with four homes each. But the projects are undergoing a simultaneous environmental review because they are physically and functionally related, according to Char Schumacher, a natural resource senior planner for Okanogan County.
The property owner, Harry Burkholder, started the application process for three of the projects in 2016 and has now submitted the other three.
Burkholder owns 180 acres of land south and east of the Pine Forest Subdivision. In December 2016, he submitted a proposal to develop 60 acres into three 20-acre short plats of four 5-acre parcels each. The new proposal would subdivide another 60 acres, also into three plats with four parcels each. Lots created by three of the short plats would contain part of a wetland.
The remaining 60 acres, which are immediately adjacent to the Pine Forest subdivision, will be retained as open space to be developed by some other owner at some later time, according to the application. Those 60 acres are “the most suitable for growing trees,” it says.
Aside from a 2016 application for water availability for the first 12 homes, the proposal for Hummingbird Heaven has been on hold — it hasn’t been reviewed or approved by the county nor had a public comment period, said Schumacher.
The state Department of Ecology denied Burkholder’s request to drill a well for the first three short plats in 2016, saying he needs a water right.
Burkholder subsequently asked Okanogan County for a review of water availability for the project. Okanogan County Hearing Examiner Dan Beardslee denied that request last year, pointing to correspondence from Ecology stating that a group-water system is required. Beardslee also noted that Ecology said Burkholder’s project is in the Thompson Creek basin, which is closed to new water uses.
Burkholder appealed the county’s decision, but the hearing examiner again denied it, saying the county doesn’t have the authority to issue a permit to drill a well. Only Ecology can issue a permit for a well, he noted.
In the new application, Burkholder proposes to supply the first three short plats with water obtained by drilling a well for each residence — 12 in all — directly into bedrock. Drilling into bedrock is done to assure that the water being drawn is not in continuity with a river or aquifer that has been closed to new appropriations based on Ecology’s determination that there is not enough water to support additional uses.
For the three new short plats, Burkholder says he intends to obtain a water right and use near-surface wells, said Schumacher. The plans call for three separate wells with larger-than-usual above-ground storage to protect the wetland during drought.
Because the water would be supplying residential projects, Burkholder would have to show that there is enough water to provide an uninterrupted supply to the 12 homes, said Schumacher.
In a letter included in the environmental checklist, Burkholder states that it took 30 years to persuade the county to give his parcels the same 5-acre zoning as Pine Forest. That rezone replaced the previous designation for 20-acre-minimum lots.
Now that Burkholder has submitted all six projects, the county is soliciting public comments on all six — comments on both the potential environmental impact of the developments and on the developments themselves.
Perry Huston, the county’s planning director, will review the applications and all public comments and issue a preliminary approval or denial. If the projects are approved, Burkholder will have four years to fulfill the requirements of the preliminary approval, which could mean drilling wells, obtaining approval for a septic system, or constructing roads or other infrastructure, said Schumacher. Once the four years expire, there is no extension and he would have to reapply.
Although the six short plats are being considered as a group because of their proximity and the water requirements, the county can issue preliminary approval on all, none, or some of the projects, said Schumacher.
Burkholder said in the application materials that he plans to start work on whichever project is the first to receive approval for water availability.
Huston has determined that the development is not likely to have a significant adverse impact on the environment if the conditions the county set as mitigation are met. Mitigations include access to all lots that meets county road standards, a road-maintenance agreement, adequate and legal water, and a 30-foot buffer of defensible space for wildfire prevention.
If Burkholder receives preliminary approval, he would have to meet all the conditions and then undergo a final review, which would include another public-comment period.
The numbering and naming of the six proposed short plats and the application materials are somewhat confusing. The three projects submitted in 2016 are numbered 1 to 3 and the corresponding maps are numbered 9 through 11. The three new projects, from 2018, are numbered 4 to 6 and the maps are included in the individual applications.
Comments are due to email@example.com by Sept. 14. For more information, contact Schumacher at (509) 422 – 7113.