July 11 discussion may be in ‘closed session’
The Twisp Town Council wants to take a detailed look at the Orchard Hills planned development preliminary approval application before it takes action on the request.
At its meeting last week, the council decided to continue discussion of the application, and the Mitigated Finding of Non-Significance (MFNS) required under the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA), at the council’s July 11 meeting.
Because review of the application is considered a quasi-judicial process, the council could conceivably meet in a “closed session” under the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, which means it would not be open to the public, similar to an executive session.
The council’s formal action last week was to withdraw the current MFNS, which precludes adoption of the Orchard Hills preliminary approval application. The MFNS, which has now been through several appeals, must be approved in conjunction with the rest of the application. “You can’t really split these up,” Town Attorney Scott DeTro told the council.
The withdrawal action was one of four options the council considered at its meeting. The others were to accept the recommendation for preliminary approval that was earlier forwarded to the council by the Twisp Planning Commission; modify the Planning Commission’s recommendations, which would require including “findings of facts and conclusion;” or deny the planned development application outright.
The Planning Commission’s report and recommendations on preliminary approval of the proposed residential development includes an extensive list of requirements that the commission believes should be met before the project can move on for 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 preliminary approval report from the Planning Commission is based on planning staff findings and recommendations, applicable town ordinances and policies, public input, and Planning Commission discussions. It addresses issues such as ingress and egress, which is now limited to one public street, fire protection, density and traffic impacts.
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.
Although the public input portion of the process is completed and the council will not be taking public testimony on the planning commission’s recommendations, last week’s council meeting was nevertheless well-attended by residents of the affected neighborhood, the Palms, and other interested citizens.
DeTro said he saw no reason that any of the council members should recuse themselves from discussing and acting on the application. Several council members said they had been approached about the application by residents, but did not offer opinions about how they might decide. “You are a close-knit community and you are going to have contacts,” DeTro said.
Council member Hans Smith said he had “a ton of questions” for DeTro and Town Planner Kurt Danison, and proposed withdrawing the MFNS based on the most-recent comments on its findings.
DeTro said the council’s decisions must be based on the existing record in the Planning Commission’s recommendation, including comments on the MFNS.
In other business:
• The council approved a contract with the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs to assist the town in recruiting and hiring a police chief to replace Paul Budrow, who was elected county sheriff in 2022. The town has had difficulty attracting applicants, despite significantly raising the pay range for the police chief position. The contract calls for a payment of $4,000 plus staff time and expenses. The contract is “scalable,” which means the town can choose the levels of assistance it desires, including interviewing any finalists for the position.
“There is a cost to hiring,” Mayor Soo Ing-Moody said, adding that the contract is intended to expedite that process.
Twisp has been without any police officers since Budrow became sheriff and the town’s two other officers resigned. Meanwhile, the town has contracted with the Sheriff’s Office for interim police protection, on a per-call basis.
Budrow, who lives near Twisp, appeared at last week’s council meeting and said that county patrols and the Washington State Patrol’s presence have been increased in the area, and he also is vigilant while commuting to and from Okanogan.
“We’re doing a lot of enforcement ahead of holiday weekends,” the sheriff said.
• The council heard a report from Public Works Director Andrew Denham that leakage at the Wagner Memorial Pool has decreased significantly, but that may indicate that the ground under the pool is saturated. Staff continues to monitor the situation, he said.
• The council accepted the withdrawal of the Planning Commission’s May 2022 preliminary approval for a proposed 10-unit townhouse development on Highway 20 adjacent to the former Blackbirds complex.
Property owner Craig Bunny and developer Carla Smith of Everett-based Diversified Design had submitted a proposal for a 10-unit planned unit development of townhomes — nine two-bedroom units and one three-bedroom unit, with a total of 24 parking spaces — on a .56-acre parcel directly east of the Blackbirds building on the north side of Highway 20 where it intersects with Twisp-Winthrop Eastside Road.
According to a staff report by Danison, the proposal is consistent with the town’s applicable zoning of commercial riverfront, which requires a planned unit development (PUD) process, and meets other requirements. However, Danison noted, the proposal exceeds the allowable density, which would limit the development to eight townhouse units. Danison attached a long list of conditions for final approval including addressing the density issue.
In a letter to the town, Smith asked to withdraw the preliminary approval and SEPA determination of non-significance. Danison said the application can be resubmitted.
• The council heard a report on a public workshop to update the status of the town’s Housing Action Plan and solicit public feedback, held on June 26. Council member Mark Easton said about 20 people turned out for the event.
A community survey on the plan is available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/TwispHAPSurvey. The plan is intended to provide an outline of possible actions Twisp can take to address the challenges of housing affordability and accessibility.
• Council member Katrina Auburn, one of the council’s liaisons to the Planning Commission, reported that the commission has formed an informal advisory group, made up of community volunteers, to help the commission develop proposals for updating the town’s regulations related to overnight rental comversions.
Formation of such an ad hoc group had been suggested by some residents who are interested in the issue, and supported by Town Council members.
The Town Council recently extended the existing moratorium on overnight rental conversions for another six months, after that year-long moratorium had produced little progress in addressing the issue.