County declares moratorium on large subdivisions

By Marcy Stamper
Methow Valley news

May 10, 2007

Methow Valley, WA - A moratorium on applications for dividing large lots into 20-acre parcels has been declared countywide through the end of June.

The Okanogan County Commissioners enacted the 60-day moratorium on so-called large-lot segregations at their April 30 meeting to give them time to review amendments to the zoning code that would alter the requirements for breaking up large parcels of land.

"The basic premise is, we’re trying to get a handle on some uncontrolled growth – we’re having 1,000-acre parcels divided," said Commissioner Andrew Lampe.

Under the existing zoning code, individuals seeking to divide these large lots were not required to show access roads or availability of water, according to Perry Huston, director of Okanogan County Planning and Development.

The commissioners are considering amendments to the code that would require anyone seeking to divide a parcel into more than four 20-acre lots to provide a map showing access roads. For more than nine lots, the applicant would have to document water supply in addition to road access, and the application would be subject to review under the State Environmental Policy Act, according to Huston.
Divisions of large parcels into four or fewer lots (of a minimum of 20 acres each) still would be handled under the old rules; that is, only a map of the new lot boundaries would be required.
Any applications submitted before the moratorium took effect will be processed under existing zoning rules, said Huston.

No public hearing is required for any of these large-lot segregations, but the environmental review process would mandate public notice and an official public comment period, said Huston.
The commissioners are considering additional amendments that would alter the boundary line adjustment process, which Huston termed "a gray area" in the county code. Under the proposed amendments, a developer could not apply to relocate lot boundaries after getting initial approval of a lot segregation without going through the short-plat (for four lots or fewer) or long-plat process (for more than four lots), he said.

Handling these applications as short or long plats would subject them to stricter review, regardless of the size of the lots, said Huston. A long-plat process already necessitates an environmental review, he noted.

County code provides various mechanisms for dividing large parcels of land. Any division into lots of at least 20 acres is considered a large-lot segregation, but this application process has historically had relatively few requirements, hence the term "exempt 20s."

The commissioners were concerned that some developers had "skirted the intent of the rules" by creating 20-acre parcels and then dividing them again into smaller lots using a boundary-line adjustment, said Lampe.

For example, existing rules did not prevent a developer from splitting a 100-acre parcel into five 20-acre lots and then making four 10-acre lots and one 60-acre piece by changing the boundary lines. Because there is no waiting period governing a large-lot segregation, the developer could then split the 60-acre piece into three new 20-acre parcels, said Huston.

The commissioners hope that with the proposed amendments, the effects on the county – for example, on roads, water availability, or the tax implications for a fire district – will be adequately reviewed before a subdivision is approved, said Lampe.

"We’re not trying to stop development," he said. "We just want it done right. We want to leave what we all love about this county – the wide-open spaces."

Lampe said the primary concern is development in the north part of the county more than in the Methow.

In addition to considering stricter requirements for subdivisions of large parcels, Lampe said commissioners are interested in exploring other options, such as clustered, higher-density development that would preserve open space. Clustered development also would lower the costs of the associated infrastructure, he said.

There is a public hearing on Monday, June 11, at 11 a.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room to consider a repeal or extension of the moratorium. The actual code amendments will not be considered at this hearing.

Lampe said he expected the moratorium would be extended because the planning commission will not consider the proposed amendments until its meeting on June 25. A notice of a 30-day public comment period on the amendments will probably be posted next week, said Huston.



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