By Danica Ready and Nancy Nash Mendez
In recent weeks, there have been some concerns expressed in letters to the editor regarding Methow Housing Trust’s (MHT) proposed Cascade Meadows North Development in Winthrop. To address these concerns, we’d like to share some information about MHT, our partnership with Housing Authority of Okanogan County (HAOC), and the process (to date) regarding the proposed Cascade Meadows North Development.
MHT develops and preserves permanently affordable, quality housing for residents of the Methow Valley. We acknowledge that we can only fulfill our mission by inspiring the community’s trust, making strategic investments that will last in perpetuity, and collaborating effectively with other community partners.
Since 2016, thanks to the generosity and trust of community, 21 local families have secured the dream of affordable home ownership in Twisp and Mazama. Today, Methow Housing Trust manages a growing wait list (currently 40-plus) of eligible local families.
The housing need
As has been documented in several studies and reported by the Methow Valley News and other local publications, the need for affordable housing in the Methow Valley is acute and immediate, both in the form of affordable homeownership and rental options.
To meet this need, MHT and HAOC have been working for well over a year, in consultation with the Town of Winthrop, professional neighborhood designers, civil engineers, traffic flow and safety specialists to develop a plan to deliver 26 single-family units and 22 rental units within International Fire Code and Town of Winthrop code and zoning requirements.
Prior to sharing our plans with any other members of the community, MHT and HAOC invited all members of Cascade Condominiums Association to a Zoom call in November 2021, where we shared our vision, site plan drawings, a preliminary traffic report and proposals to mitigate impacts – recognizing that the Cascade Meadows North Development will result in changes for the residents of the Cascade Condominiums neighborhood.
What we heard verbalized by the majority of members who spoke up at the meeting, was support for the project and appreciation for an opportunity for candid communication. After the meeting, MHT received constructive feedback via the association leadership, including illumination of some minor errors in the preliminary traffic study. MHT took this information back to the third-party traffic analysis team, those corrections were made, and it was determined that the recalculations did not alter conclusions and recommendations of the study. The updated study was submitted with the planned development application.
Communication with the association leadership is ongoing, and we are told that the majority of the association members support the Cascade Meadows North Development. We also understand that the association is still concerned about the overall road plan for the neighborhoods as development progresses, and MHT and HAOC share that concern.
Roads and safety
The Town of Winthrop has been attempting to convene (and find alignment between) the neighboring property owners on the bench where this development is being proposed for many years. There is no doubt that a plan for road connectivity is needed. With the addition of MHT/HAOC’s proposed additional 48 units, there is renewed commitment to finding a long-term solution.
MHT has developed an on-site road design for the Cascade Meadows North Neighborhood plan that matches the town’s long-term vision for a safe, community-oriented and connected road system for this area of Winthrop. Off-site, it will require coordination and partnership between many landowners to bring a permanent solution to fruition, and MHT stands as an active and ready partner to provide cooperation, planning and proportional financial investment to that process. In the meantime, there are two separate road issues, both of which are addressed in the application we have submitted to, and in coordination with, the town:
• Traffic (daily trips and peak hour flow). The traffic analysis conducted by a third-party consultant to assess traffic flow thresholds determined that the current, primary road and entrance is adequate in terms of reasonable traffic flow considering the current existing units, and all proposed additional housing units — MHT and others. There is no doubt that there will be more traffic in the neighborhood, but not a level of traffic (daily or peak hours) that crosses a threshold that suggests the need for an addition (or alteration) to the existing primary road or entrance.
• Fire safety. MHT and HAOC share our community’s concern about safety and have designed Cascade Meadows North Development to increase safety for all residents in the area. Although it is true that there is currently only one fully developed egress for daily traffic in this growing neighborhood, there are also two other less-developed road easements that MHT points to as temporary egress options.
With minor improvements, either can serve as an immediate emergency egress solution until the town’s efforts to establish the long-term road connection is complete. One of those egresses connects to Highway 20 (on MHT’s property) and one connects up to Horizon Flats Road.
The proposed development plan currently includes MHT investing in any necessary grading and/or surfacing needed to ensure a fully passable emergency egress down to Highway 20 at the time of development, if needed. Furthermore, if the town determines that the alternate road easement (to Horizon Flats Road, not on MHT’s property) needs to be utilized from a safety standpoint, MHT and HAOC stand ready to join our neighbors in investing in that road improvement as well.
There has been no shortage of rapid change in our community these past several years. MHT and HAOC aim to be a part of the solutions needed to point the needle toward positive change. To that end, it is our conviction that the benefits of adding 48 units of acutely needed housing, in an area of Winthrop zoned for this purpose, is the right direction for our community to move without delay. There is a solution for temporary emergency exits until a permanent solution is developed by the town, and the immediate need for housing should not be held up given the options that exist today.
We invite you to join us in support of developing affordable single-family homes and rental units in Winthrop. MHT’s planned development application is available for review through the Town of Winthrop, Feb. 2-18.
Danica Ready is executive director of the Methow Housing Trust. Nancy Nash Mendez is executive director of the Housing Authority of Okanogan County.