Residents will help create guidelines
Methow Valley residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on special guidelines and protections for the Methow watershed, like how close houses can be, whether people can build on ridgetops, and whether to restrict night-time lighting.
The guidelines will be included in new subarea plans that will ultimately become part of Okanogan County’s comprehensive plan.
The Okanogan County commissioners approved three subareas — A, B and C — and a new map for the Methow Valley More Completely Planned Area (MCPA) on July 5. Some of the subareas have been in existence for decades, but the resolution now extends the opportunity for special protections from Mazama to just north of Pateros. The existing Methow Valley MCPA coincides with the Methow School District, which goes south to Gold Creek.
Under the new boundaries, subarea A goes from Mazama to Winthrop, subarea B takes in Winthrop and the Chewuch and goes a little south of Twisp, and subarea C goes from south of Twisp to Pateros, including Carlton and Methow.
The county will recruit area residents interested in serving on advisory committees for subareas B and C, who will be appointed by the commissioners. Subarea A already has an appointed committee. In the past, there have been advisory groups for the middle and lower Methow, but they were never formally appointed, Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer said at a commissioners’ meeting at the end of June.
When the commissioners adopted the new comp plan at the end of last year, they also adopted two existing subarea plans as addendums — for subarea A (Mazama and the upper valley), and the overall Methow Valley More Completely Planned Area. The existing MCPA for the Methow has served as an umbrella for the three subareas within it, but is in essence just an extra administrative layer, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover said.
The plan for Subarea A was initially created in 1976 and was last updated in 2000. The MCPA for the Methow Valley was created in 1976 and hasn’t been updated. The two terms — More Completely Planned Areas and subareas — are essentially interchangeable, Palmer and the commissioners said.
The existing subarea plans include policies for employee housing, for development to take into account limitations on land and water, and a goal of retaining large amounts of open space.
The Mazama plan says development must be designed and managed to prevent adverse affects on the ambient sounds of nature. It also includes guidelines to protect property from wildfire.
Okanogan County’s comp plan includes provisions for residents of any area in the county with a common interest to do subarea planning and create their own MCPA, to be “responsive to the wide range of landscapes and demographics within the County’s borders.” The MCPAs help inform development regulations such as zoning and subdivision codes.
New MCPAs reflect the desires of individual communities. The commissioners can designate a subarea based on natural and physical boundaries such as watersheds or highways, landowner interest, and community identification. The commissioners must appoint a diverse advisory committee of property owners within a MCPA, according to the comp plan.
Goals and policies within a MCPA plan don’t apply outside that area.
Some parts of the county have created special rules through the zoning process to govern things like lot sizes by creating an overlay. Overlays don’t requite their own set of goals and policies.
Okanogan County advertised for consulting firms with expertise in code review and technical writing to review and update the county’s zoning ordinance, but received no responses, even after running the ad for four weeks, Palmer said.
The zoning ordinance applies the principles in the comp plan to specific areas throughout the county and governs permissible land uses.
The commissioners seek a consultant to review changes to the comp plan, watershed plans, and other development regulations to determine if the zoning ordinance is consistent. The consultant would also propose necessary changes, conduct analysis about new conditions, and develop a plan for the public to participate in the zoning update.
The commissioners said they would see if they can find qualified consultants through local planners or the Planning Association of Washington, rather than readvertise.