OKANOGAN – For more than three years a new comprehensive plan has been in the works in Okanogan County, but vehement disapproval from residents has stymied the plan’s adoption.
The last comprehensive plan update was in 1964, and some say they don’t want it to change in favor of what they see as more government regulations over how they can use their land.
In a public hearing April 30, County Commissioners Andrew Lampe, Bud Hover and Jim Detro listened for about five hours to impassioned testimonies from a room packed with concerned residents.
Much of the debate was between two citizen groups from the Methow Valley area that have had a long-standing disagreement over how land should be managed. While some comments came from people affiliated with Citizens for a Sustainable Okanogan (CSO) – which wants to maintain a rural environment by expanding the minimum farmland size to 20 acres and making sure development doesn’t exceed the water supply – most statements were from homeowners and farmers who felt their private property rights will be taken away.
Jon Wyss, president of the Okanogan County Coalition for Property Rights, brought a 500-page document written by Futurewise, an organization that has been working with CSO. He said Futurewise supports imposing more land restrictions, while the coalition does not.
“Futurewise, we have one suggestion: Stay in Seattle and write a plan to put in place where you live; let us, the citizens of Okanogan County, write ours,” Wyss said. “Get the government out of the way, let us live our lives, let us return profitability to farming and let us do our jobs.”
Bonnie Smith of Tonasket used to own a logging business, and she said she doesn’t think the county needs a new comprehensive plan.
“Please do not force this unconstitutional law on the people of Okanogan County,” she said. “If this passes, we the people of Okanogan County may as well kiss all of our rights goodbye…. We’ve worked very hard for many years to get what we have, and we sure don’t need any environmental wackos from the Methow or anywhere else telling us what we should do with it.”
Joel Kretz, a Wauconda rancher and representative for the Washington State 7th Legislative District, had some harsh words for the commissioners.
“Everybody in the room can probably think of a couple hundred things they’d rather be doing today, but here we are again telling you the same thing we’ve been telling you for three years, and that’s ‘No,'” he said. “The point that I just want to leave is it’s my choice what I do with that land, it’s not yours. So I hope you wait long and hard and you think about this before we put in another 5,100 pages of regulation which should not be in a comp plan anyway. It should be a policy document…. There’s too much regulatory language in here. Unacceptable.”
A few residents asked the board to consider mediation so all the parties could reach a compromise.
Since it was a public hearing meant to gather testimony, the commissioners made no comments.
As for the next steps, the commissioners will discuss the plan and make any changes they see fit before sending it off for a legal review. The document will be sent back to the Okanogan County Planning Commission, and from there will be given to the county commissioners for a possible vote.
A copy of the draft comprehensive plan, along with a map, can be downloaded online at www.okanogancounty.org/commissioners, or requested by calling (509) 422-7100.