Walkable, European-style communities - Sound familiar? Twisp Planning Commission envisions riverfront commercial district

By Ann McCreary
Methow Valley News


The new zoning approach will allow more residential units in the downtown area, for instance, permitting apartments over businesses. This encourages a more concentrated, pedestrian-oriented city center, one of the visions of the planners.

Twisp, WA - Writers of a new zoning ordinance for Twisp are working to create a new approach to land use that reflects how the town is growing and changing, and paves the way for a vision of the town’s future.

"Twisp is changing. The town is poised…for new industry and business to happen," said Rocklynn Culp, a land use planner who helped the town begin its zoning revision last year. "Part of what’s driving this revision is to be responsive to that."

Planners say the new zoning approach will encourage different types of compatible activities within the same area, allowing more innovative combinations of commercial, residential and public uses.

This will help Twisp realize one of the key elements of the vision planners have for the town–creating an accessible, pedestrian-friendly environment where people can live and conduct business.

"There has been discussion of a sort of European model, with intermixed residential and businesses," said Tom Ketcham, chairman of Twisp’s planning commission, which is overseeing the zoning revision.

An example of this approach is the creation of a new "commercial riverfront" district, which includes property upstream and downstream of the Methow River Bridge. Ketcham said the riverfront district is intended to allow the town to take advantage of a unique resource.

"We have a large area of undeveloped riverfront under a limited number of owners. We could come up with something cooperative between the town and owners…a well-designed riverfront development."

The new district encompasses a mile or more of riverfront property that is now zoned for industrial use. Ketcham said there are "four or five" principal property owners along that stretch, and some have met with town officials to discuss development concepts. "It’s a great time to do some careful, thoughtful planning between the town and the owners…to really help Twisp grow in the way that provides the most use," Ketcham said.

As described in the draft zoning ordinance, the commercial riverfront district encourages development of the land to offer "a mix of uses including pedestrian-oriented retail, multi-family housing and tourist accommodations, entertainment and cultural activities, restaurants, and conference facilities."

Riverfront developments in other communities, such as Wenatchee, Chelan and Bridgeport, can provide ideas for development of Twisp’s riverfront area, Ketcham said. He said planners envision a development that will attract residents and visitors. "It will have an urban feel…some really nice views of the river, with access to all types of activities for dining and shopping."

The concept of mixed uses extends throughout the new ordinance, in contrast to the decade-old ordinance that relies on a strictly defined list of permitted and prohibited uses within designated districts.

"The problem with traditional zoning," says planner Culp, "is that unless you’ve thought of every possibility, you’re going to see uses come up that we haven’t thought of." She compared it to "looking into a crystal ball" to foresee future development.

Sandra Strieby, a consultant hired by Twisp last year to move the revision process forward, said the new ordinance relies far more on "performance-based" zoning. "Whether a use is allowed is at least in part based on the level and types of impacts relative to each zone," Strieby said.

Rather than relying on a list of pre-determined uses, performance-based zoning gives far more flexibility in deciding what activities or development are reasonable. In determining whether certain uses are acceptable, the town may require an impact assessment.

To evaluate impacts, the ordinance provides an extensive list of performance and development standards that address issues such as noise, glare, external lighting, electrical interference, hazardous substances or waste, hours of operation, odor, emissions, air pollution, and vibration.

The new approach also allows flexibility in decision-making by providing for more extensive use of mitigation tools, such as buffers and landscaping, to reduce potentially adverse impacts.

It also provides for an "administrative permit," which enables the town’s zoning administrator to make decisions about uses that are not listed in the town ordinance, and to impose conditions when necessary. "It provides an opportunity for the town to work with property owners or business owners to make sure everything is done as compatibly as possible," Ketcham said.

Under the new ordinance, Twisp is likely to see an increase in home-based businesses, Ketcham noted. That’s a reflection of the trend in business development that planners foresee for the town.

"In today’s business climate, in today’s economy, there are perhaps fewer large-scale businesses that would move into this valley. It is more likely to be small high-tech or light manufacturing businesses," Ketcham said.

"Those are what seem to be replacing the days of large companies with factory jobs, especially since we’re so remote here and transportation costs are so high. We want to encourage small scale business to come to the valley."

The new zoning approach will allow more residential units in the downtown area, for instance, permitting apartments over businesses. This encourages a more concentrated, pedestrian-oriented city center, one of the visions of the planners.

"Mixed uses foster a more vibrant community," said Culp. This reflects a national trend toward a "new urbanism," a movement away from suburban sprawl in favor of user-friendly towns and cities, Culp said.

"In Twisp, you could call it ‘new rural urbanism’," Culp said.

The town is seeking public input on the zoning ordinance as it moves toward a final draft, which is expected to be completed in March or April. Ketcham said the public is welcome to provide input and attend planning commission meetings on the first and third Wednesdays each month, at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.



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