Town Council looking for ‘Twisp-specific strategies’ in document
The much-anticipated Twisp Housing Action Plan landed with a thud, literally and figuratively, at last week’s Town Council meeting.
Council members and Mayor Soo Ing-Moody expressed disappointment with the information-dense document, which was prepared by the La Conner-based firm Beckwith Consulting Group and funded by a state grant.
“This is not going to function as a strategic plan,” Ing-Moody said during the meeting. The mayor said the document has a lot of useful information but needs “more clarity on how it applies to Twisp,” and is not ready for adoption. Several council members made similar observations.
Beckwith was hired last year to come up with Housing Action Plans for Winthrop and Twisp within the context of the greater Methow Valley’s housing market conditions. The plans are funded by a $50,000 state grant that is being shared by the two towns.
Work on the plans commenced in September of 2022. Beckwith began by 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 from a variety of sources. The firm’s Tom Beckwith connected earlier online with the Winthrop and Twisp town councils, separately, to review the firm’s findings to date for each community. Public workshops were also held in both towns, and online surveys conducted.
Most of the document is devoted to extensive research of factors that affect not just the Twisp housing market but also the region’s housing supply and affordability, including demographics, market trends, government, private and nonprofit resources, and opinions gathered through interviews and public workshops. There are lots of pie charts, line graphs, bar graphs and maps with comparative information, as well as illustrations of various alternative housing types.
The document’s list of 28 potential “implementation tasks” for Twisp can’t be found until Appendix G of the main report. The executive summary references those tasks (although it says there are 29, apparently a typo) but with no specificity. The Appendix G listings range from zoning and regulation changes, to streamlining the permitting process, acquiring a “strategic housing site,” reducing or waiving some building fees, and adopting additional taxes to support affordable housing projects. None are very detailed.
Council members acknowledged that the document offers a wealth of information and represents a good deal of relevant research — but had concerns about how it could be used to meet Twisp’s specific needs. And they had a few other issues, small and large.
Council member Aaron Studen noted that the plan refers to the social services nonprofit Room One as a provider of affordable housing, which is not the case.
Council member Alan Caswell pointed out that in several places the plan seems to indicate that there was no housing built in Twisp between 2014 and 2020. Ing-Moody said that was “clearly an error.”
Council member Hans Smith said he found editing and organizational problems throughout the document, as well as repetitive information, “some of it repeated over and over.”
The executive summary “doesn’t provide clear take-aways” for the town, Smith said, and lacks prioritization or explanations of relative impacts.
“There is no vision in this plan,” Smith said. He said the plan also lacks performance metrics and a sense of overall costs.
Council member Mark Easton, who has been one of the town’s liaisons to the consulting firm throughout the process, said he was “sorely disappointed” in the document, which he said offers “a whole bunch of data but no outcomes tailored to Twisp.”
Easton said he had been hopeful that the plan would include a hypothetical example of a potential housing plan.
“I really can’t find any Twisp-specific strategies,” Easton said.
Ing-Moody said that some recommendation for changes were not included in the final document.
The mayor and council members agreed that they need to review the plan more thoroughly and come back with a revised version to adopt.
In Winthrop, that town’s version of the plan as submitted by Beckwith is being reviewed by Town Planner Rocklynn Culp and Planning Commission member Simon Windell, who will prepare a “summary document” for the Town Council, Culp said.
“Our summary document will add local context and concerns related to the data and findings in the Beckwith HAP,” Culp said. “We intend it to be the document that we use going forward to address our housing needs.”
“We hope that the document we’re putting together will be more broadly useful to all the entities interested in furthering affordable housing in the valley,” she added.
In other Twisp business:
• Ing-Moody said the council will take up discussion of the Planning Commission’s report recommending preliminary approval of the proposed Orchard Hills planned development — with numerous conditions — at its Sept. 12 meeting. The public input portion of the process is complete and the council will not be taking public testimony on the planning commission’s recommendations.
Meanwhile, an updated “mitigated determination of non-significance” (MDNS) related to possible environmental impacts of the project will be issued and published, followed by a period for public comment. There will be no public hearing on the updated MDNS.
• The council again postponed discussion of a proposal to rezone commercial property along the Methow River at the south end of town for residential development. At an earlier meeting the council had asked the property’s owner, Raw Otter LLC, for more information about the “intent and vision” for the site. Last week, council members said the additional information provided was still not detailed enough.
Raw Otter LLC, wholly owned by Mike Port, has petitioned the town to rezone four adjoining parcels between Wagner and Marble streets, two with river frontage, from undeveloped commercial riverfront to R2 (single-family residential), which is consistent with adjacent residentially developed property. According to the petition, Port intends to pursue residential development on the site.
The first step in the rezoning process is for the council to review the petition and, if it chooses to, refer it to the Planning Commission for review and recommendations.
• Public Works Director Andrew Denham reported that the town has received a Washington State Public Works Board grant of $150,000 that will be used to fund an updated water system plan. He said the plan was last updated in 2015 and is outdated because of water system improvements since that time.