Here’s a quick look at the status of land use issues and actions in Okanogan County:
Lower valley zoning
New lots in the lower Methow Valley will be at least 5 acres — instead of 1 acre — if the county commissioners follow a recommendation by the Okanogan County Planning Commission. The planning commissioners recommended making the zoning rules permanent at their meeting on Monday (Sept. 28).
The less-dense zoning from Gold Creek to near Alta Lake was instituted by the county commissioners on an interim basis in June 2019 to protect limited water supplies. The commissioners were concerned small lots would allow thousands of houses to be built without enough water to supply them. According to an analysis done about 10 years ago, the lower valley already has more lots than the water allocation can support.
The zoning change slashes the number of buildable lots by 81%. Anyone who already has a parcel smaller than 5 acres will be able to build on the lot, although they must meet other water requirements. Lots where wells would be fed by the Columbia River are also not affected.
Methow Valley Citizens Council Executive Director Jasmine Minbashian testified in favor of the change, to protect water availability, wildlife habitat and open space. Lower density will increase wildfire safety, she said.
Mark Miller questioned why zoning is being used as a tool to control density, rather than assessing water availability on individual lots. This area needs more housing, Miller said.
Okanogan County could have a current recreation plan for the first time in years, now that the planning commissioners recommended the adoption of an updated draft. The planning commission recommended the adoption of a rec plan six years ago, but the county commissioners never adopted it, according to Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer.
Members of the public urged the county to revise the plan to prioritize additional trails for recreation and commuting, to address conflicts between users such as equestrians and all-terrain vehicles, and to relieve pressure on trails in the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.
Because having a current rec plan is important for obtaining grants, Palmer urged adoption. Issues raised by the public can be addressed in an update, she said.
Okanogan Watershed plan
The planning commission also recommended the adoption of the Okanogan Watershed plan, a massive effort that has been in the works for several years.
A key aim of the plan is to create a net ecological benefit for aquatic habitats and species.
The Okanogan was one of several watersheds required by the state Legislature in 2018 to update its watershed plan to identify the potential impacts of exempt-well use, identify conservation measures, and identify projects to improve watershed health.