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photo of mazama ranch house signCommercial buildings could be built on three lots along each side of Goat Creek Road under the Mazama Advisory Council's plan. The Mazama Community Club is on the right.

photoJim Gregg, chairman of the Mazama Advisory Committee

Push and Pull
Charting Mazama's future

Big changes will occur in the “downtown” center of the valley’s uppermost hamlet if all goes as proposed by the Mazama Advisory Committee.

The committee, appointed by Okanogan County commissioners to advise them on Mazama development, has devised a plan to limit commercial uses to properties that abut the road along the Mazama intersection of Lost River Road and Goat Creek Road. The proposal will be formally submitted to the commissioners sometime within the next three months, according to committee chair Jim Gregg.

The goal is to concentrate commercial enterprises in the core area, where they can easily be reached by pedestrians, and to prevent commercial sprawl, said Gregg. With an urban residential designation along the roads, limited commercial uses as well as affordable housing above retail structures would be allowed, according to Gregg.

“We wanted to get ahead of the game,” said Gregg, who added that in relatively undeveloped Mazama it’s not too late to guide commercial development in a manner that the community prefers. “We don’t want it all up and down Lost River Road,” he said. Gregg, formerly the U.S. Forest Service’s Denver-based expert on ski resort development, was transferred by the Forest Service to the Methow Valley in 1986 to handle the ill-starred Early Winters ski resort in Mazama. 

Among the most readily noticeable changes at the intersection would be:

  • Installing a four-way stop at the intersection
  • Removing overhead electrical wires and poles
  • Moving the overhead sign advertising the Mazama County Inn and the Mazama Ranch House away from the intersection
photoUnder the plan this sign would be moved back away from the road.

Key - and more complex - aspects of the plan call for moving CenturyLink’s equipment building out of the northern end of the parking lot. If the company’s legal requirements can be met, CenturyLink’s equipment would be relocated just south of the Mazama Community Club along Goat Creek Road. The company has indicated its willingness to work with the committee but likely would not be able to make the move before 2014, company negotiator Sharon Scharer has told the committee.

The former Burnt Finger barbecue/guide shack structure owned by Steve Devin east of the CenturyLink building would be moved away from the parking lot and back toward Devin’s Mazama Ranch House to create access to a redesigned parking lot, according to Gregg.

In addition, land swaps and boundary adjustments would put commercial properties along the east side of Goat Creek Road, and property belonging to the Mazama Community Club would be “squared up” in a boundary adjustment.

All this would clear out space for a visually attractive plaza that would have such amenities as benches and a heated public restroom, said Gregg. Having a central plaza adjoining the parking lot would tell people that they had arrived in Mazama, which otherwise can be hard for visitors to find, he noted jokingly. An association of business owners would have to agree to pay for those public amenities, added Gregg, who said some of the expenses of the work to date have been funded by committee members and landowners because the county has no funds to assist with the project.

“There’s no reason this can’t proceed,” said committee member Ken Westman. But, he said of the committee’s proposal, “It’s strictly an advisory. The land owners are kings. They can do what they want, or what they can get away with.”

photoMazama's early days. Photo courtesy Shafer Museum.

Still, said Westman, he hopes the committee’s work will lead to development of a “Mazama village” similar in feel to the people-friendly, historic old villages of New England. It must have the services people need, he said, be pedestrian-friendly and have a place for people to park their cars.

As part of getting community input, the committee provided 25 disposable cameras donated by WalMart for residents to photograph what they like about Mazama, said Gregg. And the handful of major landowners whose approval is essential if the vision is to become a reality have generally been supportive of the proposal, he said.

Rick and Missy LeDuc own the Mazama General Store, the main existing development near the intersection. The way they have developed their historic property fits well with the village concept, said Westman, and Gregg noted that the pedestrian trail the LeDucs built from their store to the ski trail is a good model for what should be done to enhance pedestrian access. The county does not want cars parked along its roads, said Gregg, but on-street parking along the store property was grandfathered in.

Bill Pope and Bob Monetta are co-owners of the Windermere Realty office at the intersection’s northeast corner and the Mazama Country Inn behind it. They also own three commercial lots east of the parking lot, as well as most of the parking lot itself. Their three commercial lots would, in effect, move west to the edge of Goat Creek Road where the parking lot is now, said Pope.

photoThe CenturyLink building in the foreground would be moved to the south end of the Mazama Community Club, the red building in the background (former Burnt Finger Barbecue) would move back toward the Devin's Ranch House, and the telephone pole and wires would be removed to create a plaza and larger parking lot.

The parking lot would be expanded and configured differently. As envisioned in the plan, it would grow from its 100-vehicle capacity to 150, said Gregg, and have entrances and/or exits at the north end as well as south of the Mazama Community Club.

Devin’s Ranch House corral and arena sit on property owned by Pope and Monetta, and the corral would become smaller. But both Devin and the community club would get a “net gain” in property size as a result of land swaps and other boundary adjustments, according to Pope. “Basically it’s going to be a net gift from our partnership to the rest of the community,” he said.

Pope and Monetta, the Mazama Community Club and Devin all have reached preliminary agreement to execute the proposed land swaps and boundary adjustments, said Pope, who added that he expects the land swaps to be the next step in the process, perhaps to be completed within a year. “I am optimistic. I think everyone basically is in agreement,” said Pope. “Now we have to hammer out the steps.”

The founder of the Mazama Book Festival, Art Gresh of New York City and Mazama, owns the property - three lots of which are zoned commercial - on the intersection’s southwest corner across from the parking lot. Pierre Maré, a London-based architect and professional planner who designed Gresh’s Mazama home, prepared the committee’s plan for the commercial core at Gresh’s instigation, said Gregg.

Developer Bill Percich of Friday Harbor owns the property on the intersection’s northwest corner. His development plans have triggered a lawsuit by Gresh. Citing what he calls an erroneous water supply ruling, Gresh filed suit against the Okanogan County Commissioners for approving Percich’s Nordic Village development.

photoMazama landowner Art Gresh

That lawsuit is awaiting the Washington State Supreme Court’s decision on whether it will take the case, said Gresh’s attorney, Michael Brady, who added that Gresh objects to Percich’s proposal to build a dense “strip mall” in defiance of the community and committee’s wishes. Westman told Grist that Percich plans to put too many structures on his property, and thus would negate the committee’s goal of preventing overbuilding in the commercial core.

“I guess it depends on whether the community in Mazama wants a diversity of professional and retail services or they don’t…I guess the market will dictate,” Percich told Grist. His development has six commercial and six residential lots. The commercial lots, which run 500 feet along Lost River Road opposite the Mazama General Store, have 67 off-street parking spaces.

Asked about the charge that his plans call for too much density on too little land, Percich said he was not opposed, for example, to building one larger building on two lots rather than two smaller ones on two lots, or selling all six lots as a unit for a single development. “I like the idea they’ve come up with,” he said of the committee’s plan. “It’s going to be a little town no matter what. It’s tiny.”

Percich, who also owns the 22-unit Talon Ridge long plat on 17.3 acres on a steep hillside east of Winthrop, is facing an April 2013 deadline for submitting final plans for that development but has informed Winthrop town planner Rocklynn Culp that he likely will seek a one-year extension on that project, she told Grist. Percich told Grist he did not want to comment on the status of his plans for Talon Ridge.

Overall development on the valley floor in Mazama is guided by the Upper Methow Valley Comprehensive Plan, also known as Sub-Unit A. All valley floor property outside Winthrop’s north/northwest town boundary falls within that plan’s development rules.

In addition to Gregg and Westman, other members of the Mazama Advisory Committee are Midge Cross, John Sunderland, Doug Devin, Andy Kindig, Ken Madden and Karen Reneau.


Have a comment? >>

We read your recent story about Mazama planning on Methow Valley Grist. For clarification’s sake, the Nordic Village plat provides for a total of 67 parking spaces, or at least 11 parking spaces per each of the commercial lots, rather than 11 spaces total for the commercial lots as your story implies.

We also read for the first time your story dated December 23, 2011, entitled ‘Mazama Development Beats Appeal’. That story deserves clarification in that it reads that Mr. Gresh was appealing the rezone of residential use to a mixed use of commercial/residential. Actually, Mr. Gresh’s appeal was on the zoning change from Urban Residential to Neighborhood Use, not residential to mixed commercial and residential uses. The plat was approved by Okanogan County as mixed use, as the zoning allowed, with the commercial lots in Urban Residential zoning. It was the written recommendation of the Mazama Advisory Committee that the zoning designation of the commercial lots in the plat be Neighborhood Use, rather than Urban Residential, to allow for more diversification of services. Incidently, the uses in Neighborhood Use zoning actually use significantly less water than many of the uses under the Urban Residential zoning designation.

Bill Percich and Monica Van Appel-Percich
Friday Harbor, WA

(editors note: the story has been corrected to say 67 parking spaces)

I'm concerned about proposed changes to the Mazama intersection. A diagram displayed at the last Mazama Advisory Open House, showed four 90 degree corners in place of the present curved approach of the Goat Creek Road. That subtle little
curve is part of Mazama's unique character, and helps distinguishe us from the every town 4 square intersection.

Eric Burr
Near Lost River (Mazama)

addendum: thinking about a roundabout....what a great location for one of Bernie's Balls. Any arts patrons around? No pun intended.

Paul Moorehead
Anacortes, WA