Once you start trudging down that long, dark tunnel that public process often becomes, looking for a glimmer of light at the end can test one’s patience and confidence in the system.
It’s more or less an axiom of government that, even at the local level where process is not as ponderous as in the Legislature or Congress, less-urgent things can be done relatively quickly while the important things with long-term consequences take time.
Such has been the case with two major issues in the Town of Twisp, both of them generally related to the question of available and affordable housing in the growing community.
For more than a year, the Planning Commission and Town Council have been shepherding the progress of the proposed Orchard Hills planned development, for which the applicant is seeking preliminary approval, and potential revisions in the town codes regulating the conversion of existing residences to overnight lodging use — or as the Planning Commission is now calling them, short-term vacation rentals.
Both have been followed with intense public interest. The Planning Commission’s 400-plus page report recommending preliminary approval of the Orchard Hills proposal, with a long list of requirements that must be met to achieve final approval, includes dozens of oral and written comments, mostly from town residents. Every commission or council meeting with Orchard Hills on the agenda has been well-attended, even when the public could not comment.
Public interest and involvement in the overnight housing discussion has been similarly impressive. Residents initially raised the issue and pretty much insisted on town response and action. They have tracked the process resolutely. An ad hoc citizen committee was formed to help the Planning Commission come up with ideas and possible approaches for handling the overnight housing question.
In each case, the heavy lifting has been done by the Planning Commission’s volunteer members and the town’s part-time planning staff. Planned development applications have their own prescribed sequence of steps, including public hearings. The overnight housing issue bumped along, sidetracked by other Planning Commission tasks, until the council prioritized it after a year-long moratorium moved the town no closer to resolution.
Resolution made a noteworthy appearance at last week’s Town Council meeting, where both the Planning Commission’s recommendations for the Orchard Hills application and its proposed revisions to the overnight housing codes hunkered down on the same agenda. Dealing with both lengthy commission documents’ many detailed recommendations and findings required a marathon session (by Twisp Council standards) of three-and-a-half hours, including a rare intermission.
But hang on. We’re not quite out of the tunnel yet.
After all the Planning Commission’s work, it’s up to the council to make final decisions, and that rarely happens without some changes. Commission members must sometimes feel that, after the time and effort they put in, they are being second-guessed at the last moment when the council rejects or alters the commission’s recommendations.
At last week’s meeting, the council worked its way through each of the 29 requirements for Orchard Hills’ preliminary approval, and then sent the document back to the town staff and commission with a number of revisions. The council then “fly-specked” the commission’s suggestions on the overnight housing issue, and again returned it for more work before final adoption. So it will be a few or even several weeks more before either or both topics wend their way back to the council.
However long it takes, finding the best outcomes is the council’s job. Making everyone equally happy is not. There are always going to be disappointments
And then, when the council puts it imprimatur on the final documents, Orchard Hills will return at some point for final approval, and new overnight housing ordinances will have to approved (and enforced, or what’s the point?).
At a lull in last week’s meeting, one council member (who is not seeking re-election) joked that perhaps the two decisions could be postponed to January — when three new council members and a new mayor will take over the town’s leadership.
The new council likely won’t inherit that prospect. They will, however, be the ones dealing with some looming issues including updating the town’s sign code — another effort that has been going on for quite a while, and which will be a challenge to reach consensus on. The Planning Commission’s docket is not easing up any time soon. When you clear one tunnel, new ones will appear.