The Winthrop Town Council continued its discussion of proposed revisions to the town’s Westernization code as it applies to W-3 zoning at its meeting last week, and agreed that further refinements are necessary before the proposals reach the public hearing stage.
Council member Kirsten Vanderhalf, who was part of an ad hoc committee appointed by the council to review the Westernization ordinance’s regulations for solar arrays in the W-3 district, presented recommendations the group had developed — particularly as to how the Westernization code is applied to solar panels in the W-3 district, and whether town buildings should comply with the Westernization ordinance.
The W-3 discussions originated several months ago when a proposal to amend the Westernization code to more broadly allow solar panels in the W-3 district came before the Westernization Design Review Board (WDRB) and the Planning Commission. No action has been taken on that proposal, which drew considerable public comment both supporting and opposing the amendment.
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.
At last week’s meeting, Vanderhalf said the committee’s recommendations would exempt certain public projects, such as public works, from Westernization requirements. But buildings the town controls wouldn’t be exempt. Existing buildings would be grandfathered in and wouldn’t have to comply unless they undergo renovations.
The ad hoc committee also suggested language to address how solar-panel installations could be allowed in the W-3 zone, including what colors would be acceptable and how the arrays would be made less conspicuous. Whether to allow free-standing solar panels, and how to camouflage them if allowed, was also discussed.
The visibility issue remains to be resolved. Originally, no solar arrays could be visible from any publicly used right-of-way in W-3. The current proposal is that no solar panels be visible from Highway 20, but visibility from the Susie Stephens Trail or White Avenue would be allowed. Vanderhalf said the committee will also work on language affecting free-standing solar arrays, and bring revised proposals back to the council.
After the council signs off on the proposals, they will be subject to a Winthrop Planning Commission public hearing, likely to be scheduled early next year.
In other business:
• Mayor Sally Ranzau confirmed that Deputy Marshal Doug Johnson will fill in as interim marshal, after former Marshal Dan Tindall lost his attempt to temporarily stay a state order decertifying him as police officer in Washington state. Tindall had been on a 30-day paid suspension that ended Dec. 6.
Johnson spent about 25 years with the Tukwila Police Department. He advanced through the patrols ranks to the management level in Tukwila, where his responsibilities included running the narcotics, vice and patrol divisions and overseeing a complicated drug bust. Johnson was hired by Tindall in late 2017. The town’s other police officer is Deputy Marshal Ken Bajema.
• Ranzau announced that the WDRB, which oversees administration of the Westernization code requirements, will finally have a quorum after months of being officially inactive. She said Duncan Bronson, a former member of the WDRB, has agreed to return to the group. Also joining the WDRB will be Leslie Dolan, Ranzau said.
The two appointments will bring the board back to five members. Four are required for a quorum. The town has been unable to find enough people to serve since several WDRB members resigned at about the same time several months ago.
Ranzau said that the WDRB still needs another member who is a business owner, but at least now the group can function. “We’re very happy to have our Westernization committee back,” she said.
The Planning Commission has been handling Westernization business in the interim. Ranzau said the commission will turn those functions back over to the WDRB.