As Okanogan County nears the deadline on a fast track for adopting an updated comprehensive plan, the public has one more opportunity to weigh in on environmental impacts. Comments on the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) are due on Friday, Dec. 10, although there will be no public hearing.
The county’s planning commission recommended the transfer of the comp plan to the county commissioners after taking testimony on the plan at their Nov. 29 meeting. Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer advised the planning commission that if they made further changes to the plan, it could derail the compressed timeline, which has the county commissioners adopting it by the end of the year.
Adopting the plan by the end of the year is part of an agreement worked out in court between Okanogan County and the Yakama Nation, which challenged the county’s current plan shortly after it was adopted in 2014, Okanogan County Chief Civil Deputy Prosecuting Attorney David Gecas said. The Methow Valley Citizens Council (MVCC) and Futurewise also sued over the plan.
Most of the challenges dealt with what the plaintiffs said were shortcomings in addressing water quality and quantity.
The primary objective of the plan is to prepare for the next 20 years of projected population growth in Okanogan County.
The planning commissioners had previously considered and incorporated public input provided in the spring, almost entirely from Methow Valley residents. The county commissioners sent that version of the plan to the county’s land-use attorneys for their review.
The attorneys reorganized the plan, but did not make substantive changes to the content, Palmer said.
The attorneys used language more consistent with state regulations, Palmer said, which disappointed planning commissioner Dave Schulz — who represents the Methow Valley – enough for him to cast the sole vote against sending the plan to the county commissioners. The lawyers did a lot of wordsmithing that lost the personality of the county, Schulz said.
Schulz was also concerned that the plan doesn’t require adequate Firewise protections and doesn’t trust that the zoning code will protect the county from wildfire. The zoning code will translate the principles of the comp plan into specific land-use policies – such as how big a lot can be, how close houses can be to one another, and what types of activities are allowed in different parts of the county.
Other planning commissioners said the draft comp plan addresses their major concerns and those raised by the public and called it a big improvement over the 2014 draft. They were reluctant to delay the process, they said.
The planning commission will meet on Dec. 27, at 6 p.m. to review comments on the DEIS. The county commissioners are slated to adopt the plan Dec. 29.
Adequate subarea plans?
Half a dozen people, all from the Methow, offered verbal testimony at Monday’s hearing, but many others submitted written comments in advance of the hearing.
Several commenters were concerned that the plan didn’t guarantee that existing subarea plans (called “More Completely Planned Areas”) that cover the Methow Valley and Upper Methow Valley would remain in effect after the new comp plan is adopted.
Those subarea plans will be updated by advisory committees, but at present, there is only an active advisory committee for Mazama. The county commissioners have to appoint a committee for the Middle Methow Valley and potentially another group to focus on the Lower Methow Valley.
The planning commission will meet on Dec. 27, at 6 p.m. to review the comments on the DEIS. The county commissioners are slated to review and adopt the comp plan on Dec. 29.
Read the comp plan and environmental analysis
The plan, DEIS and maps are on the Planning Department website at https://www.okanogancounty.org/government/planning/index. Go to “Projects & Plans” in the blue bar at the left, then click on “Comprehensive Plan Update.” The documents are in the gray bar at the bottom of the page.
Send comments on the DEIS to firstname.lastname@example.org.