Earlier meeting created confusion
By Marcy Stamper
Last month’s planning commission meeting about the county’s comprehensive plan left the planning director, planning staff — and some of the planning commissioners themselves — scratching their heads about what had been decided.
So, the commission convened again last week in an attempt to clear up the confusion and address procedural questions.
Okanogan Planning Director Pete Palmer and Senior Planner Angela Hubbard each listened to the recording of the March 22 planning commission meeting — twice — to try to figure out the direction the commissioners had chosen for the comp plan.
The commissioners were tasked with recommending one of the comprehensive plan’s four alternatives for growth in the county — where it should take place and what type of economic development to promote — to the board of county commissioners. Maps for the alternatives provided additional detail.
“I’ll be honest — when we left here, our heads were spinning,” Palmer said. “We weren’t sure what went on and what the outcome of everything was.”
Planning staff drew up three alternatives — one for the current comp plan without any changes, plus two other options. One relied on market demand to direct growth, and the other concentrated growth near cities and towns and preserved rural areas and agriculture.
The Methow Valley Citizens Council proposed a fourth alternative during the 2019 comment period that added more rural designations for different activities. Planning staff included it as another option. But there was no map to illustrate it.
At the March meeting, the planning commissioners eliminated Alternative 4, in part because it didn’t have a map. Instead, they slightly amended Alternative 3.
Alternative 3 directs most population growth to cities and towns. It uses larger lot sizes to avoid conflict with agriculture and to minimize wildfire risk to residences. It encourages larger lots in rural areas. And it says the availability of water should help guide growth.
But Planning Commissioner Phil Dart, from the Molson area, said he wanted to use the map for Alternative 2 because it reflects current conditions.
The commissioners voted for Alternative 3, paired with map 2. Commissioner Gina McCoy, who represents the Methow Valley, voted against that. Since they’d rejected Alternative 4 because it didn’t have a map, the commissioners should use the same standards and not approve the revised Alternative 3 without a map that reflected the changes, she said.
After that vote, the March meeting was officially adjourned. But the commissioners continued to talk — and to “talk over each other,” Palmer said. As a result of that after-adjournment discussion, the planning commissioners determined what to send to the county commissioners for their review of the comp plan.
On April 7, the planning commissioners retraced their steps.
The commissioners agreed that Palmer had accurately captured their changes to Alternative 3. But the maps are based on the wording of each alternative and therefore can’t be mixed and matched, Palmer said.
Still, the changes to Alternative 3 were too minor to require a new map, Palmer said. The major revisions to the map will occur when the commissioners take up the zoning code, since that will show details for neighborhoods and lots throughout the county, she said.
After carefully wording the motion, the planning commissioners voted unanimously to send the revised Alternative 3 and its map, the comp plan, the environmental impact statement, and the 120 public comments about the plan to the board of county commissioners.
In addition to the confusion about the alternative and map, there were significant concerns about procedure at the March meeting. Decisions were made after adjournment, Palmer said. Motions weren’t clearly or accurately stated before a vote. The process “trampled on” full participation, McCoy said.
Palmer suggested the planning commissioners update their bylaws, which are from 1971. Among the issues to address are procedures for discussion, voting on leadership positions, and making sure not to conduct any business after they’ve adjourned, Palmer said.
The commissioners will discuss parliamentary procedure at their regular April meeting. The planning commission will also take up the county’s critical areas ordinance (CAO) at that meeting. Although the CAO went through the full process eight years ago, the county commissioners never adopted it, Palmer said.
The state Department of Commerce just completed its review of the CAO and requested minor changes. The state is pressuring the county to formally adopt it, Palmer said.
A video of the April 7 special meeting can be watched on AV Capture at https://okanogancounty.org/avcapture.html.
The next planning commission meeting is Monday, April 26, at 7 p.m. Log-in information will be posted at okanogancounty.org/planning.
The county commissioners will hold their own hearing on the comp plan and will take another round of public comment.