Town reviewing appeal of environmental assessment
The Twisp Planning Commission’s public hearing on the proposed Orchard Hills planned development has been extended again while the town considers appeals to an earlier determination that the project poses no environmental risks.
After several delays, the initial public hearing for the Orchard Hills proposal was held on Feb. 8. That hearing, which was heavily attended and drew dozens of oral and written comments, was continued to March 8. Last week’s continued hearing again drew substantial public participation — most of it raising specific concerns about the development as proposed — which can continue at the next Planning Commission meeting on April 12.
Meanwhile, staff and eventually the Town Council will consider multiple appeals to the planning department’s “mitigated determination of non-significance” with respect to possible environmental impacts.
Town Planner Kurt Danison said at last week’s meeting that the Planning Commission can’t take action on preliminary approval of the Orchard Hills proposal until the State Environmental Protection Act (SEPA) environmental impact process is resolved.
Danison said the town staff and Planning Commission are reviewing all the oral and written comments received to determine which apply to the SEPA appeal. The developers have been asked to respond to the comments as well, Danison said.
Planning Commission Chairman John Battle reiterated that the SEPA review must be completed before the commission can take action on the Orchard Hills preliminary approval. He said all the public input will be addressed.
Once the public hearing is officially closed, no more public comment will be taken by the Planning Commission nor by the Town Council, which has the final authority to approve the preliminary application.
Orchard Hills is a proposed housing development on the bluff west of downtown Twisp, submitted by Palm Investments North LLC of Winthrop (owned by Jerry and Julie Palm). The proposal calls for 52 residential lots of 3,630 square feet to 8,903 square feet and three open space tracts on approximately 17 acres. The open space would cover about 6.8 acres, or 40% of the development. It was first submitted to the town in May 2022.
Several public hearings on the Orchard Hills proposal that were scheduled in 2022 were postponed while the developers’ application was revised in response to earlier public and planning staff comments.
The delays and resubmittal came after the original determination that the project would have no significant environmental impact was appealed. After the town received comments objecting to the non-significance finding, that finding was withdrawn and “a list of items that the applicant must address in order for the town to issue a mitigated determination of non-significance” was provided.
The town recently issued a new “mitigated determination of non-significance” based on the revised proposal. The determination is now under appeal.
Some issues addressed
Danison said a couple of issues are being addressed. Regarding concerns about access to the site, which is now limited to May Street, the town has hired an independent fire marshal to review the Orchard Hills proposal’s provisions for evacuation in case of fire. Any requirements that Okanogan County Fire District 6 — which provides fire protection to the town under a contract — will be met, Danison said.
Danison said that a recent study of the town’s water resources determined that Twisp has enough water and sewer capacity to serve Orchard Hills and other developments that are in process. Storm water drainage provisions must also be addressed for the Orchard Hills site, Danison said, and additional traffic studies will be necessary to determine potential impacts on adjacent streets including West Second Avenue and Highway 20.
Danison emphasized that the current process is to consider preliminary approval of the development by the commission, which is likely to include a long list of provisions and requirements. The final decision on preliminary approval is up to the Town Council, which can reject it, accept it as is, or approve it with more requirements. Final approval goes through the same process: review and recommendations by staff, consideration and action by the Planning Commission, and then review and action by the Town Council.
As in the earlier hearing, commenters at the March 8 session raised several major concerns which they say are not being adequately considered.
Those include the limited ingress and egress; whether the project can accurately be considered “affordable” housing; the impact of proposed density on the surrounding neighborhood; how open space areas would be maintained; how stormwater runoff will be dealt with; air quality issues; the additional burden on the town’s resources; and whether the town has met public meeting notice requirements. Several commenters criticized the town for not addressing the street access issue earlier, as it has previously approved other developments in the same area.
Online commenter Doug Irvine said Orchard Hills is “a division of lots” that would be sold to individuals, “not a planned development.” Irvine said the developers are not directly addressing the specific requirements of a planned development, and cited what he said are several examples of shortcomings in the application.
Mark Edson, who lives in the Orchard Hills area, agreed that the basic requirements of a planned development are not being met and urged the commission to look to the town’s comprehensive plan and consider impacts on current residents.
Mark Villwock, an engineer who represented the Orchard Hills development at both public hearings, said last week that the Palms are responding to all the concerns that have been raised. “The Palms want to build a development they can be proud of and that the town can be proud of,” he said. He said they want to create a neighborhood with “smaller footprints” that is accessible to local residents.
As to the proposed density, Villwock said the development would include fewer lots than could be proposed, and that 40% of the property will be open space. He said a homeowners association could possibly maintain the open space if the town doesn’t want it or can’t maintain it.
Villwock said retention pond could be built to help contain stormwater runoff. Internal streets will be built to town standards, including parking on both sides (the dwelling units will all have off-street parking). Echoing Danison, Villwock said more traffic studies will be conducted.
As for fire protection, Villwock said the developers are consulting the 2018 Urban Interface Code for guidelines on to best prepare the community for potential wildfires. He said all the homes could have fire sprinklers installed as well, although several commenters noted that sprinklers would not be effective against a wildfire.
Regarding affordability, Villwock said “it’s always been a goal … the Palms have been negotiating in good faith … there are not a lot of ways to control costs to make it work.”
The Planning Commission’s April 12 hearing will be at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at the Twisp Civic Building. Instructions to join the meeting online will be posted on the town’s website in advance of the hearing at townoftwisp.com.
All submitted documents related to the proposal can be found at www.townoftwisp.com/news_detail_T2_R7.php. The documents also can be reviewed at the Civic Building during regular business hours, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Written comments can be submitted to the Town of Twisp, P.O. Box 278, Twisp, WA 98856.