As has been promised, the public’s opportunity to begin weighing in on the Housing Action Plan — actually, plans, as there will be one of each for Winthrop and Twisp — has arrived. The community participation part of the process is a bit behind schedule, but nonetheless will give residents a chance to offer ideas that might help ease the valley’s doubled-edged housing challenge: availability and affordability.
Back in September of 2022, La Conner-based Beckwith Consulting Group began the groundwork for developing Housing Action Plans for Winthrop and Twisp, within the context of the greater Methow Valley’s housing market conditions. The studies are funded by a $50,000 state grant that is being shared by the two towns.
Beckwith has been conducting information-gathering sessions with local stakeholders including nonprofits, architects, builders, contractors and others with a stake in housing solutions for the valley, and collecting relevant data. It’s a detailed, deliberate process, which has made people who haven’t been consulted yet impatient for their turn to contribute.
That chance is nigh. Next Thursday (May 25), the Winthrop Planning Commission will host a public workshop on the status of that community’s Housing Action Plan, starting at 6 p.m. at the Winthrop Barn. The session is open to anyone in the valley, as nothing that affects our housing market is going to happen in isolation from the rest of the community.
The workshop won’t be simply a listening session. In-person attendance is recommended because the meeting format is interactive through circulation to topic-oriented tables. A community survey will also be available, which may be more convenient for those who can’t attend the workshop or view it online.
Presumably, the format will be the same when a workshop is scheduled for Twisp. The date for that session hasn’t been announced yet.
Feedback and ideas will be welcome at both gatherings, and perhaps we’ll hear something innovative that makes sense. There is no shortage of interest and opinions.
Which is great, with the caveat we have offered before, which doesn’t seem to be grokking with some people who believe the plans are the equivalent of Moses’ tablets and we that should all be waiting breathlessly for deliverance. So, to reiterate: The Housing Action Plans are not commandments, not official, not enforceable, probably not fully adoptable. They are informed guidelines, starting points for meaningful discussion and, eventually, appropriate action. That is going to take more time. There will be arguments and disagreements about possibilities, priorities and implementation. Nothing will be settled on the day the final documents are delivered.
Each town’s plan will consist of a list of data-based recommendations for addressing aspects of the housing crisis. The plans are being developed independently but with a lot of shared data about the local, regional and state conditions that shape the housing market.
The Twisp and Winthrop town councils have each heard a presentation by the Beckwith firm. If you did not sit in on them or follow along online and intend to participate in one of the workshops, be ready to absorb a staggering amount of information. You’ll need to parse charts, graphs and tables to understand the reasoning and rationality behind the recommendations. The presentation to the Twisp Town Council took a couple of hours and was just a summary. You could skip to the recommendations, but it’s important to acknowledge that they will be based on research, experience and reality, not just supposition or dreamy but unattainable goals.
This was never going to be simple. The first step for all of us — town and rural residents alike — was to recognize the challenges and get proactive about dealing with them. We’ve done that, with impressive expedience. The necessary research phase is nearly completed, and will include the community’s input. Ultimately, we will be looking for a balance of high hopes and managed expectations.
Whatever the numbers and analyses say, it’s what we find consensus on that will determine if something happens, or if the plans simply gather dust on town hall shelves. We will all have something to say about that.