Friday, May 24, 2024

Chelan County Commissioners accept Leavenworth’s UGA amendments for housing density, complying with state ruling

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LEAVENWORTH – On Feb. 13, the Chelan County Board of Commissioners voted to adopt the City of Leavenworth’s proposed amendments to its urban growth area (UGA), allowing for more housing density in future developments. However, commissioners were not in support, voting out of compliance with a state ruling.

“While we sincerely hope the amendments create more attainable housing, commissioners do not see these amendments as supporting the construction of workforce housing,” the Board of Commissioners said in a statement to Ward Media.

The amendment replaces UGA zoning districts RL10 and RL12, which require a minimum lot size of 10,000 to 12,000 square feet, with a new R8 district. The R8 district permits single-family residences, duplexes, and accessory dwelling units with a minimum lot size of 8,000 square feet. The zone stretches from Titus Road to offshoots of Ski Hill Drive, ranging approximately from Wheeler Street to Valley View Drive. It also includes the River Bend Drive neighborhood and a section of East Leavenworth Road near Dye Road.

All three Chelan County commissioners originally rejected the specific amendment in February 2023, acting in the interest of strongly opposed UGA residents. Commissioners expressed concerns that the area’s lack of infrastructure would struggle to support denser housing allowances but were open to the idea if proper infrastructure was put in place.

The City of Leavenworth challenged the decision in an appeal to the Growth Management Hearings Board in October of 2023.

“We don't have a whole lot of land, and we need to get more smaller units on the land that we have to be in our urban area if we're going to do anything affordable. We can't have them on large lots. We've got to do as many as we can,” said Mayor Carl Florea.

The Growth Management Board sided with the City, stating the resolution was not in compliance with the Growth Management Act (GMA). The burden of proof was a 1997 Memorandum of Understanding, which states in Section 1: “Chelan County will adopt each city’s land use regulations, development standards, and land use designations for that city’s Urban Growth Area.” 

The Board stated that the 1997 memorandum is no longer pertinent to Leavenworth, its tourism-dependent demographics or its current housing shortage. Commissioner Shon Smith called it “irrelevant.”

“The ruling of the Growth Management Board has, in a sense, disenfranchised those citizens who cannot vote for city representatives but now must follow city zoning rules,” said the Board.

The County was mandated to come into compliance with the GMA by April 1, 2024, thus prompting the vote on Feb. 13.

“I appreciate what Chelan County did, to honor what we've chosen to do with the zoning, and I look forward to working with them ongoing to meet both our needs and their needs,” said Florea.


Taylor Caldwell: 509-433-7276 or taylor@ward.media

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