The pace of consideration and adoption of policies that govern development has quickened in Okanogan County.
Lower Methow zoning
With a permanent zoning change in the lower Methow Valley, there will be no new lots smaller than 5 acres from Gold Creek to Alta Lake. The less-dense zoning has been in effect on a temporary basis since June 2019 to protect limited water supplies. The commissioners made it permanent on Monday (Nov. 2).
There are still almost 1,000 smaller lots created when the minimum lot size was just 1 acre.
The change also brings the county’s zoning in line with Public Health requirements, which require at least 2 acres for water and septic systems, Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer told the commissioners in the discussion before the vote.
All public comment favored the change, Palmer said.
The planning commission and planning staff have been working on the county’s comprehensive plan, incorporating input from the public, with the goal of adopting a revised plan by the end of the year, Palmer said at the planning commission’s meeting on Monday (Oct. 26).
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.
The county’s existing plan, adopted in 2014, was challenged in court for not adequately addressing water availability and quality. The lawsuits also contended that there was not sufficient planning for wildfire risk. The lawsuits were filed by the Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC), Futurewise and the Yakama Nation.
The county agreed in a court stipulation to review the plan and to adopt a new plan by the end of 2018. Although the county missed that deadline, the county commissioners pointed to substantive efforts to update the plan.
Planning staff have given the plaintiffs an opportunity to review the draft comp plan and to provide feedback, Palmer said.
The plan includes four alternatives to direct growth — the existing comp plan, two alternatives based on different population projections, plus a fourth alternative proposed by MVCC. 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 comp plan has been streamlined so that it cross-references related documents without reprinting all their goals and policies, which should make the plan less cumbersome, Palmer said.
The county’s chief civil deputy prosecutor is reviewing the plan to determine whether it should have an in-house legal review or be sent to outside counsel, Palmer said.
Palmer and the county commissioners will discuss the comp plan process next week. Among the topics for review is whether the planning commissioners or county commissioners should hold the public hearing on the plan.
The county has previously held two sets of public hearings, one before the planning commissioners and one before the county commissioners, which may have actually diluted public input, since it wasn’t necessarily clear where and when to comment, Palmer said.
No public hearing has been scheduled on the plan.
The current working draft of the plan is from this August. A copy can be obtained from the Planning Department at (509) 422-7160.
Clearing and grading ordinance
The county will consider a clearing and grading ordinance, which would set requirements for land-disturbing activities. Requirements would take into account stability of foundations, slope, drainage and the potential for erosion or flooding.
The county doesn’t currently have a clearing and grading ordinance, and the lack of guidelines has sometimes led to problems and lawsuits, Okanogan County Commissioner Chris Branch said at their meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 2).
Last week the commissioners adopted an updated recreation plan for the first time in years. The Okanogan County planning commission heard public comments on the plan in September. A rec plan is important not only to oversee recreational development, but to obtain grants and other funding, Palmer said.