Public hearing on draft proposal set for Monday
After more than two years, Okanogan County has a new draft of its comprehensive plan — and an accompanying environmental analysis — for review by the public.
Based on earlier public input, the county made the most significant changes to sections on groundwater, where the county should build, on roads, and on wildfire protection. Other areas that received extra attention are critical areas (such as wetlands and areas prone to flooding and erosion) and population projections.
A comprehensive plan sets out the county’s fundamental philosophy and vision for growth — how much to grow, what type of residential and commercial growth is desired, and where the growth should occur (in and around cities and towns, or in more remote rural areas).
The draft environmental impact statement (EIS) on the plan compares three alternatives — the existing comp plan from 2014, two alternatives based on different population projections, plus a fourth alternative proposed by the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) when the county asked which topics to address during the environmental review. Alternative 3 imposes more restrictions on growth in the rural parts of the county, and Alternative 4 is even stricter. Those alternatives direct the bulk of growth to the towns and cities.
The draft plan focuses on the midrange of population growth (Alternative 2) — adding about 3,500 people, or 1,488 households — using projections by the state Office of Financial Management. It also considers slower and faster growth.
While the EIS sets out various approaches for analyzing impacts, it “does not offer a conclusion regarding which set of figures should be relied on to project future growth.”
The plan also designates land for agriculture. Under Alternative 2, using both public and private land, 22% of the county would be designated for agriculture and 54% for timber.
The plan assigns a variety of land uses, such as rural, recreation, and city-expansion areas. The four alternatives situate these uses based on transportation corridors and water availability.
The county’s zoning ordinance will take the guidelines of the comp plan and assign them to specific areas and parcels throughout the county, with restrictions on the minimum acreage for development. It also designates certain uses, such as different types of dwellings, golf courses, and heliports, based on compatibility. The county will be updating the zone code after it finishes the comprehensive plan.
The EIS analyzes the county’s buildable lands based on water availability in individual basins — and the effect of future development through 2040 — on water resources. It looks at the number of lots that are already developed and compares different scenarios for additional development. Part of the analysis is based on historical rates of building permits issued by the county.
The plan takes into account seven reaches in the Methow Valley, each of which has the same amount of water allocated under state law, although the number of lots that already have houses — and those that could potentially be developed — vary. Some are projected to run out of water before all existing parcels are built on.
Similarly, the plan looks at water basins in the Okanogan watershed.
The comp plan takes note of climate change but declines to evaluate any specific model or approaches that could affect the rate of change. Still, the plan notes that, as the climate changes, Okanogan County can expect less snow, earlier spring snowmelt, and lower summer streamflows. It also looks at the effect of climate change on wildlife habitat — in particular, for salmon — and on wildfire risk.
The county is scheduled to review its Community Wildfire Protection Plan this year.
The working draft of the comp plan was released in November. After reviewing all the comments on the draft EIS, the county will select one of the four alternatives and evaluate any proposed changes, which will be included in a final EIS. The final environmental analysis — and a review by the county commissioners — is expected in November.
The Okanogan County planning commission is holding a public hearing on the plan and EIS on Monday (Aug. 19) at 7 p.m. in the commissioners’ auditorium in Okanogan. People may provide up to five minutes of verbal testimony at the hearing, or submit comments in writing. Comments are due by Sept. 3. Comments should be sent to email@example.com.
A copy of the plan, the draft EIS, maps, and population and water studies are on the Planning Department website at www.okanogancounty.org/planning.
People can also get a printed copy from the Planning Department. For more information, call (509) 422-7160.