Commissioners recommend special status for Methow - Valley will be still be classified as sub-area in new draft comp plan

By Marcy Stamper
Methow Valley News Online

June 16, 2010

Methow Valley, WA -The next draft of the comp plan will classify the Methow as a sub-area, providing the ability to apply different planning principles here than in the rest of the county. In addition, the area will be extended south to Black Canyon, beyond its current boundary at Gold Creek.

The recommendations came at the Okanogan County commissioners’ comprehensive plan study session devoted to the Methow Valley on Tuesday (June 15), which drew about 40 people over the Loup to listen and ask questions.

The recommendations will be incorporated into the next revision of the plan prepared by Okanogan County planning director Perry Huston. That draft will be circulated and reviewed at public hearings around the county, providing an opportunity for further changes or amendments. County commissioner Bud Hover predicted that it would be at least two months before a final draft and public hearings.

Most recommendations came initially from the Okanogan County planning commissioners, and the county commissioners said they saw no reason to arbitrarily change them. “I’m keeping an open mind until the final draft we’ll be voting on,” said Hover. 

Summarizing the current status of the plan and the recommendations from the planning commissioners, Huston told the county commissioners, “What I need to know – what do you think ‘leave the Methow alone’ means?”

The commissioners directed Huston to incorporate the concept recognizing the Methow as a sub-area in the overall vision statement for the comp plan. Hover noted that there is considerable material for Huston to draw on, including the existing addenda to the comp plan for the Upper Methow and the Methow Valley, as well as goals and policies set out by the three neighborhood groups from Mazama, the Middle Methow and the Lower Valley that provided input on the plan in the early phases of the update.

They specified that the neighborhood group vision statements – which, when eliminated from the plan, created controversy – will not be added back into the plan, but would be used to inform the document.

Sub-areas are a fairly common component of comp plans around the state, as long as there is a good reason for defining them, said Huston. The commissioners supported reconciling parcel boundaries to ensure that an individual parcel does not straddle two different zones or sub-areas. 

When commissioner Mary Lou Peterson wondered whether the county should be treated philosophically as one entity with geographic, economic and socially distinct areas, Hover defended the separate treatment of the Methow because it had served the area well by preserving open space and agriculture. 

At present, the Upper Methow will be designated as a study area because area residents have been reviewing their zoning. Huston said this designation, while not required, could make them eligible for grants. They also may revisit the boundaries, which currently extend almost to Winthrop, to focus more closely on Mazama.

The more restrictive planning in the Methow has proven beneficial and increased land values, said Hover. “People recognize that if we don’t put things in place to create something decent, it’s going to turn into a bunch of crap,” he said. 

Several members of the audience, most of whom identified themselves as Gold Creek residents, stated their strong objection to the extension of the Methow sub-area to Black Canyon, largely because it would raise their minimum zoning from one acre to five or even 20, restricting their ability to subdivide their land or bequeath it to their children.

The commissioners also sparred over a countywide requirement in the current draft of the plan that people shield outdoor lighting so that it is not visible from neighboring properties. They plan to discuss it further before providing direction to Huston. 

“At what point does your right to light your property begin to intrude on my property?” Hover asked, summing up the crux of many of the issues facing the commissioners.