Planning Commission report recommends conditions for approval
The fate of the proposed Orchard Hills planned developed is now in the hands of the Twisp Town Council, which could take action as early as June 27.
At its meeting last week, the council received the Twisp Planning Commission’s report and recommendations on preliminary approval of the proposed residential development, which includes requirements that the commission believes should be met before the project can move on to final approval consideration.
As originally submitted, the Orchard Hills planned development proposed construction of 52 units on approximately 17 acres on the bluff west of downtown Twisp. About 40% of the area would be preserved as open space. The proposal was submitted by Palm Investments North (owned by Jerry and Julie Palm). Orchard Hills was first submitted to the town in May 2022 and has undergone several revisions.
The council can accept the commission and staff report as is, or modify it. Discussion of the planning commission’s recommendations is scheduled for the council’s June 27 meeting. All conditions of whatever preliminary approval the council decides on must be met before final approval can be considered.
The preliminary approval report is based on planning staff findings and recommendations, applicable town ordinances and policies, public input, and Planning Commission discussions.
Responding to public
The Orchard Hills project has drawn more public involvement than any town-related Twisp issue in recent memory. The Planning Commission held three well-attended public hearings, and considered dozens of oral and written comments about the housing proposal — which are included in its preliminary approval report — and further discussed the submission at several meetings.
The public input portion of the process is completed, and the council will not be taking public testimony on the planning commission’s recommendations.
At last week’s council meeting, Planning Commission Chairman John Battle reviewed the commission’s report, highlighting recommendations that were included in response to public concerns. He noted that public feedback was “overwhelmingly negative based on a number of repeated major concerns,” and explained how the commission had addressed them.
Primary among them was the question of fire danger and the limited access to the development, which like the rest of the neighborhood on “schoolhouse hill” is served by only one street for ingress and egress. In response, the commission endorsed a recommendation by the Chelan County Fire Marshal (who was hired as an independent consultant) that structures be separated by a minimum of 30 feet — which would also reduce density — and that a 100-foot “defensible space” be established around portions of the development.
“The applicant has voluntarily agreed to meeting building code requirements that meet or exceed new Washington State Urban Wildland Interface codes that all exterior building materials are fire-resistant,” Battle said.
Battle cited the commission’s report regarding access: “In response to the concerns for egress and access, the commission recommends that a secondary emergency access, meeting IFC requirements is installed before the final permit approval (which would be before any building permits were issued). This road could not be barricaded and would be maintained. This egress path would extend to May Street, and prior to final approval, the developer and town must develop an amendment to the adopted Emergency Response Plan that sets forth a plan for traffic control and evacuation from the May Street neighborhood.”
The commission also recommended that fireplaces be prohibited and only one wood-burning device be allowed per home; that adequate provisions be made for storm runoff; and that the town take ownership and assume maintenance of the planned open space.
Battle commended the “strong, healthy dialog” related to the proposal, and said he hopes the Palms are able to move ahead with what he called “a large and exiting” opportunity to add needed housing in Twisp.
Although the developer’s original suggestion that Orchard Hills could be characterized as “affordable housing” no longer applies, Battle said, “that’s not a bad thing … In fact, it is a very good thing for Twisp commerce and property tax receipts.”
Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said that development is needed and “affordable or not, we do want it done properly.”
In other business at last week’s meeting, the council:
• Adopted a proposal to increase the ground lease rate the town charges TranGO to park its buses on a parcel between Wagner Street and Marble Street from $250 a month to $335 a month, pending agreement the Okanogan County Transit Authority board.
• Heard a report from Public Works Director Andrew Denham that the Wagner Memorial Pool, which opened for the season last weekend, is experiencing substantial water leakage. He said the pool is leaking as much or more at it was several years also before its shell was replaced, and town staff would not be able to determine the source of the current leaks without excavating under the pool. “We don’t know what’s happening under the pool,” Denham said.
The water loss of about 10 gallons a minute is double what it was a few years ago, Denham said. He said public works staff will be monitoring the situation, but will keep the pool operating unless the leakage becomes a health and safety issue. “It’s a major concern,” he said.