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Mazama Development Beats Appeal
Nordic Village to continue

An adjacent landowner appealed the approval of a development across from the Mazama Store, arguing there were not sufficient water rights.

OKANOGAN - Okanogan County Superior Court Judge Jack Burchard Thursday denied the appeal of a decision by Okanogan County Commissioners to allow the rezone and development of a mixed-use property across from the Mazama Store.

The appeal was brought by a property owner adjoining the proposed development, Arthur Gresh, against Mazama Properties owner Bill Perchic, who plans to build six residential units and six commercial units on a 6.89-acre, 12-lot parcel. The parcel had been rezoned from single residential to also allow commercial use, and Gresh was appealing the county’s determination of non-significance of adverse environmental effects.

“This is about water rights,” said Michael Brady, attorney for Gresh. A key issue was whether the development, called Nordic Village, could legally serve 12 customers from one 5,000-gallon-a-day well. The judge ruled that it could.

Brady had argued that the developer had made a misrepresentation to the county health department about the availability of water. The department initially had raised doubts about whether there was enough water legally available to serve the 12 lots. The judge noted that the developer then chose to legally restrict lot owners to shares of water that range from 130 gallons per day to 350 in order to remain within the 6.89-acre parcel’s allotted 2,880 gallons per day. He said that with these legally explicit limits, there is no danger of defrauding purchasers, who, he noted, “don’t have very much water.”

What was originally a single lot was turned into 12 lots after the area was rezoned to also allow commercial use.

But Brady had argued that the Department of Ecology does not have the resources to enforce compliance of the per-day water limits on the lot owners. “The court can’t make a decision on a belief that the Department of Ecology won’t do its job,” the judge said. He also ruled that “there is no authority” that requires the developer to apply to Ecology for permission to divide among the 12 lots the 5,000-gallons of water per day from what originally had been a single lot.

The judge also addressed the issue of whether the rezone adversely affects the environment. “It doesn’t,” he ruled. He said the appellant’s argument that water use will be increased by the rezone to include commercial units “is not persuasive” because the developer has set legal limits on water use.

Brady had argued that there had been irregularities in the county’s rezone hearing process, and the judge agreed. “However, that error was harmless,” Burchard said. He added that it was not his job to teach the commissioners and the planning department how to hold a hearing.

“There are arguments that we should not be doing this in Mazama,” the judge added, alluding to Brady’s description of the development as “a strip mall in Mazama.”

“Those issues are not before the court,” the judge said.

Perchic’s attorney, Alexander Mackie, said after the ruling that Perchic “has chosen to limit himself to those (businesses) who have one or two employees” to keep within the water limits. He said no food service establishments will be allowed. Brady said his client is “considering the options, including an appeal.”