Town will review zoning implications
By Ann McCreary
A decision on dissolving the Twisp Public Development Authority (PDA), created 13 years ago to guide development of the property that is now TwispWorks, has been put on hold while the town takes a closer look at zoning implications.
The Twisp Town Council voted last week to delay action on a request, submitted by the PDA itself, to dissolve the organization after questions were raised by citizens and council members about how zoning requirements would apply to future developments on the TwispWorks campus.
The council voted to refer the matter to its Public Works Committee to resolve questions about zoning and development on the TwispWorks property after the PDA ceases to exist. Council members said they hoped to bring a resolution to dissolve the PDA back to the board by the next meeting.
The council received three letters from residents living near TwispWorks seeking assurance that when the PDA is dissolved, zoning for the TwispWorks property would revert to C-1 (downtown commercial) designation. When the PDA was created, a zoning “overlay” was established that allows greater latitude in development decisions to foster development of the property, which is located in a designated C-1 zone.
Residents said the more flexible standards for development on the TwispWorks property have negatively impacted residential neighbors, and wanted to be sure that the zoning overlay would disappear along with the PDA.
LaShelle Easton, who lives on Methow Street on the east side of the TwispWorks campus, said the intention of the PDA overlay was to allow case-by-case consideration of development on the property, but in practice the more flexible development standards have taken precedence over the underlying C-1 zone.
“Under the lax PDA overlay zoning, with limited intervention by the Town, TwispWorks has had a profoundly negative impact on its residential neighbors,” Easton said in a letter to the Twisp Council.
She cited numerous impacts, including trash and recycling blowing into neighbors’ yards; noise from businesses, concerts, construction, and equipment used in light industries on campus; increased vehicle traffic; bothersome smoke and outdoor lighting; and bad behavior of patrons at a tap room on campus.
“TwispWorks is no longer a fledgling organization in need of special accommodation to become a reality … It is only right that they be held to the same standards as all other businesses in Twisp,” Easton said.
Easton noted that although she is married to council member Mark Easton. “I would hope that my point of view not be conflated with his.”
‘Clear pathway’ sought
Heidi Dunn, a Methow Street resident, said in a letter to the council that “putting industrial businesses in the middle of a residential neighborhood has its challenges,” and urged adherence to standard C-1 zoning and more stringent oversight of future development on campus.
Twisp Mayor Soo-Ing Moody, in an interview after the council meeting, said she is aware of two permit applications pending for the TwispWorks property. One is for expansion of the eqpd bag manufacturing facility, and another is for development of a storage facility next to the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. “Those have been submitted, there are conversations about other potential developments,” Ing-Moody said.
After hearing residents’ concerns during the town council meeting last week, council member Hans Smith suggested postponing a decision on the resolution to dissolve the PDA to allow time for town officials to resolve questions about the zoning overlay and how to consider future projects on the TwispWorks campus.
He recommended referring the issue to the council’s Public Works Committee “to make sure there is a clear pathway before the PDA is dissolved.”
Council member Mark Easton suggested that consideration of any pending applications for development at TwispWorks be delayed until the town resolves questions related to how zoning regulations will be applied.
John Battle, Twisp Planning Commission chairman, said it was “an excellent idea” to discuss the issue in the committee, and permits already submitted to the town for projects on the TwispWorks campus could continue to be reviewed “under C-1 zoning” that ensures public input in the process.
Smith said he thought the Public Works Committee could complete its work in time for the resolution to dissolve the PDA to be considered at the next council meeting. The council, with Easton abstaining, approved delaying action on the resolution.
The PDA had submitted a request earlier this year asking the town to dissolve the organization because it had “completed its mission.” PDAs, sometimes known as “public corporations,” are established by towns or cities to carry out a particular undertaking such as developing and operating a specific piece of real estate — in this case the former U.S. Forest Service property.
The PDA was created to take possession of the 6.4-acre Forest Service property after it was put up for auction in 2008. A community initiative to acquire the property got an assist from a $1 million loan from an anonymous donor, with the provision that the loan would be forgiven after 10 years if the campus became self sufficient.
The PDA had oversight of development of the property from 2008 until 2014, when the PDA transferred most of its assets to the TwispWorks Foundation. Since 2014, “the Twisp PDA has not provided any zoning oversight for the TwispWorks Campus and does not see a future role for the PDA for this oversight,” said David Gottula, PDA chair, in a Sept. 13 letter to the Mayor Ing-Moody urging dissolution of the PDA.
All PDA assets, including a solar power project, were transferred to the TwispWorks Foundation by 2020. Since 2008, the former Forest Service buildings have been refurbished and rented, new buildings constructed, the grounds landscaped, and the $1 million loan forgiven.
Merc bathroom conditions
In other town council business, the contentious issue of the public restroom in The Merc Playhouse building came up again in a letter to the mayor and council from The Merc’s board of directors. The facilities are inside The Merc Playhouse building and are used by theater patrons during events, and also serve as a public restroom during the day, accessed through an entrance on East Second Avenue.
The town is not following provisions in a lease agreement with The Merc that require the town to lock the doors at the public entrance off Second Avenue at 4 p.m., The Merc directors said in their letter dated Sept. 10. This is the third time since June 22 that the town has been notified that the schedule is not being followed, the letter said.
The restroom is also not being maintained “in a clean and sanitary manner,” with the exception of trash collection, according to The Merc. A leak in a urinal has not been repaired since The Merc notified the town about in mid-August, the letter said.
The directors said The Merc plans to open to patrons next month for the first time in a year and a half, and the conditions of the restroom “are unacceptable.” The directors said that, per provisions of the lease with the town, The Merc would arrange for cleaning and to repair the urinal and bill the town “if conditions aren’t greatly improved” by Sept. 20.
In a discussion of the letter at the council meeting, Police Chief Paul Budrow, whose department is charged with locking the restroom doors, acknowledged that he forgot to lock the doors on one occasion shortly after the current agreement with the Merc went into effect. On two other occasions his offers on duty were involved in police calls and as a result locked the doors later than 4 p.m., Budrow said. Police calls need to come first, he said.
Public Works Director Andrew Denham, whose department cleans the restroom, said the facility is cleaned every day of the week, and the urinal leak referred to in the Sept. 10 letter has been repaired. “I make inspections unannounced and find them (the restroom) clean,” he said.
Mayor Ing-Moody said she would respond in writing to The Merc, and include a suggestion that the time for locking the doors be extended if police officers are occupied with a call.
The town closed the public access to the restroom in November 2018 because of ongoing concerns about whether the facilities could be kept safe and clean. The Twisp Town Council decided to reopen the restrooms to the public this year in response to requests from visitors and downtown merchants, but against the wishes of The Merc Playhouse.