Includes provisions for solar arrays in Winthrop’s W-3 zone
More than a year after a request to allow solar panels in Winthrop’s W-3 business district set off an extended discussion of the town’s Westernization code requirements, the Town Council has endorsed changes to the code that were recommended by the Planning Commission.
At its meeting last the week, the council unanimously approved the code revisions with little discussion. In a memo to the council, the Planning Commission noted that it took additional testimony at a March 12 public hearing on the proposed revisions.
The proposed changes included:
• A requirement that the town apply for a Westernization permit and “comply to the maximum extent practical and feasible with all aspects of the Westernization code” on any town-built structures. It has been a point of contention that the town has been exempt from the same Westernization standards that other businesses and organizations have to abide by.
• Specific standards are set for the rear facades of buildings that will be visible from the planned RiverWalk corridor.
• Solar arrays will be prohibited in the W-2 business district but permitted in the W-1 and W-3 zones provided they are not visible from Highway 20, and standards for solar arrays are specified.
The planning commission reported that testimony at its March 12 hearing reflected points made at other hearings and public forums during the past year. The comments included strong support for Westernization and its requirements for how buildings should appear in the applicable zones; and equally strong support for allowing solar power arrays. Some commenters said the planning commission’s proposals represent a workable compromise.
The public discussions that eventually led to the Westernization code changes originated at the council level in February 2018 when a proposal to amend the code to more broadly allow solar panels in the W-3 district came before the council. Earlier, the town’s Westernization Design Review Board (WDRB), which oversees administration of the code, had unanimously recommended that the proposal be denied. The proposal drew considerable public comment both pro and con.
The Planning Commission held its first public hearing on a proposal to allow greater flexibility for solar arrays in the W-3 zone in April 2018. The commission recommended that the council form an ad hoc committee to review the Westernization ordinance’s regulations for solar panel arrays in the W-3 zone, and other aspects of the code.
That ad hoc group also conducted a public meeting in August 2018, and came up with some preliminary suggestions for code revisions. The council took up consideration of those proposals in October 2018, and the subsequent discussions continued into the new year.
Meantime, the town went for several months without a functioning WDRB after several of the board’s members resigned, citing what they perceived as a lack of support for Westernization by the Town Council. The resignations left the group with but one member. Four are required for a quorum. The Planning Commission temporarily took over WDRB functions. Only recently was the town able to find enough people to reconstitute the WDRB, which now has five members.
Council member Kirsten Vanderhalf, former chair of the WDRB, took a leadership role in the ad hoc committee’s work. Council member Ben Nelson was also on the committee. The committee’s proposals – which included comments from the informal RiverWalk Committee of downtown property owners and businesspeople, and from the reconstituted WDRB – were the basis for the revisions the Planning Commission considered and recommended.
Mayor Sally Ranzau said although it took some time to complete, the revised ordinance is a “good solution.”
The town staff will now prepare a formal ordinance for adoption by the council. No other public hearings are required.
In other business:
• Mayor Ranzau reported that she expects to bring a recommendation for a new town marshal to the council soon. Former Marshal Dan Tindall resigned after he was decertified as a police officer by the state. Deputies Doug Johnson and Ken Bajema remained on the force, and Ranzau said earlier they would be the only two candidates for the marshal position. After a marshal is named, the town plans to hire a second deputy and has already begun advertising for the position.
• The council agreed to contract with the Inslee Best law firm of Bellevue to assist the town in a property condemnation action related to completion of the Susie Stephens recreation trail. The town needs a tiny piece of land to allow connection of the trail to a planned crossing of Highway 20 near Pardners Mini Market, and has been unable to get the owners to respond to offers. Kinnon Williams of the Bellevue firm will work with the town. Town Attorney Scott DeTro had recommended hiring outside council to help with the complicated eminent domain process.
• The council approved a development agreement for water and sewer service for a proposed housing development adjacent to Cascade Condominiums. Richard Hamel proposes to create 10 lots on the 9.56-acre property.