It’s understandable if the county’s comprehensive plan hasn’t been on people’s radar. After working on the plan for a decade, the county commissioners adopted a new plan four years ago, but that plan was challenged in court almost immediately.
Now the county commissioners and the Planning Department have delved into the plan again to meet an end-of-the-year deadline to satisfy a settlement of that suit.
The county issued a new draft comp plan early this month, along with a determination that the changes are likely to have a significant effect on the environment. That launches what’s called the “scoping” process, where the public and government agencies can weigh in with suggestions for what to address in the environmental impact statement (EIS) for the plan.
The lawsuit, filed by the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Futurewise, contended that the plan adopted in 2014 fails to protect water quality, doesn’t address wildfire risk, and doesn’t protect wildlife habitat. A separate lawsuit by the Yakama Nation covered water protections in the county’s zoning ordinance, which is based on the comp plan.
With two new county commissioners elected since the contested plan was adopted, the board committed in a court agreement to review the plan. The agreement states that the county will look at the plan to see how effectively it protects water and fire.
Basis for growth
The comp plan is the philosophical underpinning for the county’s approach to land use and growth. Regulations including the zoning and subdivision code are based on concepts in the comp plan. The plan includes a recognition of “the constitutional protection of private property rights.”
The county based the new plan on the mid-range population projection from the state Office of Financial Management — an increase of 3,511 people, or 1,950 households — by 2040. That would raise the county’s population to just over 45,000.
The draft plan presents three alternatives based on this growth. The first is the “no-action” alternative, which keeps the 2014 plan as is.
The second alternative changes where agricultural and forest-resource lands should be, and designates zones for cities to expand. Growth would follow existing transportation routes and be informed by other county plans that protect water.
The third alternative places greater restrictions on rural development, guiding growth to city-expansion areas. It also favors larger lot sizes to avoid conflict with agriculture and to minimize risk from wildfire.
The first goal in the section on groundwater states that the county will make “a clear, conscious connection between watershed planning and land use planning.” The plan supports water storage, water banking and policies that keep water from being transferred out of the county.
The plan addresses wildfire in the section on the natural environment. That includes prioritizing the protection of people, infrastructure and ecosystems; developing mitigation strategies; and planning fuels-reduction projects.
The plan also directs the county to develop educational materials, incentives and regulations to improve the fire resistance of homes. It would review road standards to accommodate fire and emergency vehicles. It would also review the county’s zoning so that development is less dense where topography makes wildfire suppression more difficult.
The plan supports agriculture as a foundation of a local food supply. It notes that an adequate inventory of affordable housing is critical to the agricultural economy. It also notes the importance of forestland in the county’s economy, heritage and recreation.
MVCC is just beginning to digest the new plan, said Jasmine Minbashian, the organization’s executive director. They’ll be looking at how the plan addresses climate change and takes into account the ability to defend homes from wildfire, she said.
The deadline for submitting scoping comments for the EIS is Jan. 4, 2019. Comments should be sent to email@example.com. The plan and related documents are available at www.okanogancounty.org/planning in the first box below the scoping notice for the plan, which starts with “Threshold SEPA Determination.” There is also a link for “Draft Comprehensive Plan” and three maps of alternatives.
For more information, call Planning Director Perry Huston at (509) 422-7218.