Changes possible, Hover tells group
As Okanogan County prepares to work on an update to its zoning code and solicits volunteers for neighborhood advisory committees, Okanogan County Commissioner Andy Hover organized a meeting in the town of Methow to let residents know about potential ways to streamline parts of the process.
Knowing residents’ preferences would help ensure that current uses in the lower valley are appropriate as the county updates its zoning code, Hover told the 16 people who attended an informal outdoor meeting on Thursday (Aug. 17).
“I’m not trying to push anything on people. I’m just trying to show that, if something is really out of whack, there are avenues for change that would be more efficient,” Hover said.
Subarea advisory groups
Okanogan County has been soliciting applicants for two advisory groups, one for subarea B and one for subarea C. Applicants must own property in the areas.
The groups will help draft subarea plans to reflect neighborhood priorities, which would be adopted as amendments to the county’s comprehensive plan. The plans wouldn’t apply to the county as a whole.
The boundaries for the subareas may be revised based on input from lower valley residents.
People interested in serving should request an application by sending a résumé and letter of interest to Okanogan County Planning Director Pete Palmer at email@example.com. The deadline for applying is Sept. 15.
The lower valley is in a special situation when it comes to land use. Unlike the Methow Valley north of Gold Creek, the lower valley isn’t part of the Methow Review District, which has stricter regulations about land use and permitted business activities. Most of the lower valley is in the Rural 5 zone.
Until a few years ago, the minimum lot size in the lower valley was just 1 acre, and many parcels have already been subdivided into 1-acre lots. But with limited water availability, the commissioners passed an ordinance setting a 5-acre minimum for any new subdivisions, Hover said.
Commercial and other uses throughout the county are governed by the District Use Chart in the zoning code. While the chart doesn’t list every conceivable use, it includes a wide variety of potential activities, from acid manufacturing and asphalt batch plants to fruit and vegetable stands, sales of manufactured homes and various types of tourist accommodations.
For each zone, the chart specifies whether an activity is permitted outright, requires a conditional-use permit, or is prohibited. In the Methow Review District, many uses are prohibited or require a conditional permit, whereas the same activities are simply permitted in the Rural 5 zone in the lower valley.
For example, acid manufacturing isn’t permitted at all in the Methow Review District, but could be allowed with special conditions in the lower valley. Fruit and vegetable stands require a conditional permit in the Methow Review District, but are permitted in the lower valley.
Manufactured homes can’t be sold in the Methow Review District, but don’t need any special permit in the lower valley. Asphalt batch plants require a conditional permit in both zones.
Some people at the meeting agreed that making regulations in the lower valley more consistent with those in the Methow Review District makes sense and would help protect community values and quality of life. But others questioned the need and said they shouldn’t preempt the subarea committee process.
Most people said they weren’t familiar enough with the regulations to know what changes to recommend. In addition to the District Use Chart, zoning includes rules for things like building height and setbacks from lot lines.
While on the surface, it looks like many commercial activities are allowed in the lower valley, in reality, they wouldn’t be possible because of water restrictions. When you look at regulations, both areas are pretty similar, Hover said. “It should be zoned like the upper valley, consistent with what you can do with water,” he said.
The county is tracking water use for the seven reaches in the Methow watershed, from the lower valley to Mazama. Projections show that the lower reach doesn’t have enough water to supply a house on all existing undeveloped lots, Hover said.
There’s no clear timeline for the zoning update. A solicitation for consultants to work on the update received no response. The commissioners have since directly reached out to some planners who might be able to help, Hover said. The county has also been trying to fill positions in the Planning Department for a year, he said.
New subarea boundaries?
The county is looking for volunteers for two subarea advisory committees, but appointing the members and getting the groups up and going will take time, Hover said.
Many people at the meeting in Methow questioned the boundaries the county set for the lower valley (Subarea C), which goes from Benson Creek, south of Twisp, to Pateros. After some discussion, there was consensus that the northern boundary should be closer to Carlton, where the topography changes. Hover told the group that he’d propose different boundaries.
Hover suggested moving the boundary so that it starts south of Carlton, he told the Methow Valley News this week. Planning Director Pete Palmer will create a proposed map for the commissioners to discuss.
The proposed boundaries for Subarea B include Winthrop, the Chewuch and Twisp. Subarea A, which goes from Mazama to Winthrop, already has an advisory committee appointed by the commissioners.
Hover encouraged everyone to look at the existing zoning code to see if there are things they’d like to see changed. The code is available online at https://www.codepublishing.com/WA/OkanoganCounty. The zoning code is Title 17A, and the District Use Chart is Section 220. People can contact Hover with questions or suggestions.