For years, water watchers have warned that there’s not enough water to support thousands of houses that could be built on small lots in the lower Methow Valley. On Monday (June 10), the Okanogan County commissioners changed the zoning in the area, slashing the number of buildable lots by 81%.
The commissioners approved interim controls that change the minimum lot size in the area from 1 acre to 5 acres. The affected area is from Gold Creek to just north of Pateros, said Okanogan County Planning Director Perry Huston, who summarized the new ordinance at a county Planning Commission meeting on June 10.
By setting interim controls, the commissioners prevent people from rushing to submit applications to become vested, said Huston. Anyone who already has a parcel smaller than 5 acres would be able to build on the lot, since those parcels are considered legally pre-existing, said Huston.
The revised zoning starts at the southern boundary of the Methow Review District. Most land in the Methow Review District is already zoned for 5 acres on the valley floor and 20 acres in the uplands.
State law allocates 14 cubic feet per second (cfs) to the entire Methow watershed, which is divided equally among seven reaches. The Lower Methow reach, which runs from Twisp almost to Pateros, is the largest. It also had the highest-density zoning, allowing 1-acre lots.
The area already has 994 lots, and most of those could be further subdivided under the old zoning. If those 768 lots were split up, it could create an additional 11, 994 lots, far exceeding the available water, according to the ordinance. Under the new zoning, the possible number of new lots drops to just 2,275.
“One-acre zoning has its place, but there are parts of the world where there’s not enough water,” said Huston.
The commissioners did not change the zoning for 226 lots in the area. Those lots are in areas designated for expansion by Pateros. Others are on land where a well would be connected with the Columbia River, not the Methow River, according to the ordinance.
An interim control can remain in effect for up to 60 days, but the county is required to take public comment on the controls before they can become permanent. A public hearing on the interim controls is scheduled for Monday, July 15, at 1:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan.