By Marcy Stamper
The Okanogan County planning commissioners heard from nine people at a public hearing on the latest draft of the county’s comprehensive plan, at the virtual hearing on Monday night (March 8), but it will take them more time to go through 120 written comments.
Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer listed the many changes to the plan since 2014, including a new emphasis on water quality and quantity, wildfire, forest health and affordable housing.
Most commenters praised county planners for their work on the draft, which revises the county’s 2014 plan. That plan was successfully challenged in court for not adequately addressing water quality and quantity, wildfire, and agriculture.
There were consistent themes in the testimony. The speakers, all from the Methow Valley, stressed the importance of policies that will protect water quality and quantity, particularly in light of climate change. The plan should encourage water conservation and storage, they said.
Speakers urged the county to use of the comp plan’s provision for plans tailored to the needs and interests of different communities. They encouraged the county to formalize the process by appointing advisory groups. Updates of the subplans for the Methow Valley are decades overdue, one said.
There was wide support for extending the existing subarea plan for the Methow Valley south, to encompasses the entire Methow watershed. Many stressed the importance of agriculture as the backbone of the county’s economy and lifestyle. One speaker urged the county to create provisions for farming on small lots.
The vision statement in the plan was widely praised, with one speaker calling it “wonderfully inclusive” for its recognition of water concerns, wildfire, and commitment to collaboration with tribes.
One speaker said he wanted the plan to address the relationship between public and private land and to balance human activities with environmental concerns. The plan should also measure the role of tourism and recreation in the county’s economy, another said.
Several speakers voiced support for two protections not currently in the plan – restricting ridgetop development and preserving dark skies. Population data in the plan is 20 years behind, and doesn’t capture recent accelerated growth, said one.
Planning Commissioner Phil Dart, from the northeastern part of the county, expressed concern that they haven’t received input from people outside the Methow Valley. Many people in his area don’t have internet access and aren’t inclined to submit written comments, Dart said.
Palmer said they’d reached out to special-interest groups, aired radio ads, and ran the required legal notice about the hearing.
The planning commission closed verbal and written testimony on the plan. They will take up the plan at their meeting on Monday, March 22, at 7 p.m. Information about how to attend will be available online at https://okanogancounty.org/planning.
The county commissioners will hold their own hearing on the plan in the spring.