CBC Efforts to Preserve Chelan Butte – Update #7 (5/1/23)

(emailed on May 1, 2023)

Hello supporters of the Chelan Butte,

The Chelan Basin Conservancy continues our efforts to preserve the Chelan Butte on many fronts and we have several updates that we would like to pass along. We are at a critical stage in this effort, so I hope that you will take a few minutes to read through this email even though it is somewhat long. Hopefully you will find it to be informative, interesting, and worth your time. The Chelan Butte can only be preserved if we have an engaged community willing to speak up about this once-in-forever issue.

First, one piece of great news. The funding for a Chelan Butte Acquisition Feasibility Study from the state capital budget came through! As mentioned in our last update, this will provide funding for a study (managed by the Trust for Public Land) to assess various approaches to funding, owning, and maintaining a significant portion of the north face of the Chelan Butte. Thank you to our District 12 state representatives Mike Steele and Keith Goehner for co-sponsoring this grant request, as well as everyone else who helped to support it. Preliminary groundwork for this study will begin over the summer with the actual project kickoff occurring in the fall.

A few notable things have happened over the past few months concerning the current owner (Golden Gate Ventures) of the nearly 900 acres on the Butte that we have been trying to preserve and the option holder for the property who would like to develop it (Raja Venugopal).

As mentioned in previous updates, the property owner submitted an application for a “boundary line adjustment” or BLA. The revised parcel boundaries can be seen here. Although the BLA was allowed by the Chelan Municipal Code (CMC), it essentially created a subdivision without having to go through the typical requirements for a subdivision, precluding an opportunity for public input.

The City of Chelan was obligated to grant the BLA, but it was made glaringly clear that the CMC needed to be changed to prevent such BLAs in the future. In considering an “emergency moratorium” on BLAs, the City specifically noted “Boundary line adjustments are intended to be minor in nature, but the current code criteria could allow for the reconfiguration of existing lots to resemble new development without considerations of whether additional infrastructure is needed to accommodate development at urban densities or whether the boundary line area contains critical areas that require further review.

As a result, on April 25th, the Chelan City Council approved a six-month moratorium on BLAs.

Also, several people have contacted us about bulldozing activity occurring on the Golden Gate Ventures property and the City of Chelan was similarly contacted. It turns out that the bulldozing was for a road across the entire face of the Butte. The City initially halted the construction activity and spoke with the owner. It was eventually determined that the bulldozers were following a historical road path that has existed for decades. Even though that road was being widened, the City assessed that it likely did not trigger review requirements under the State Environmental Policy Act (if this had been a completely new road, SEPA requirements would definitely have been triggered with opportunity for public comment). The City noted to the owner that they were not doing themselves any favors with the local community by starting such activity without any prior notification.

CBC also contacted the Department of Ecology and it is possible that the bulldozing activity triggered requirements for a stormwater permit since it appears the road has been widened in the process. This is subject to interpretation of the trigger criteria, but we will continue to follow-up on this issue as we know this has left many in the community concerned.

We have also met twice more with Mr. Venugopal in the past month or so. During those meetings he has been unwilling/unable to share the magnitude of development on the Butte that he is contemplating, saying only that he is thinking of the project in two pieces: one within the approximately 100 acres of residentially-zoned land at the east end of the Butte and one within the approximately 800 acres of land zoned for tourist accommodation in the center and west end of the Butte (see map here).

The development in the eastern residential portion of the property is targeted by Mr. Venugopal for some percentage of affordable/workforce housing. CBC understands the need for such housing in the Lake Chelan Valley and has previously indicated that a relatively small residential affordable/workforce housing development on the lower elevations of the easternmost portion of this property could be beneficial to the community. However, we do not agree that any development in the center or western portions of the property (zoned for tourist accommodation) would be beneficial or desirable for the vast majority of local residents. When asked for our input, we requested that the 800 acres of property zoned for tourist accommodation be sold to the partnership that we had previously organized (City of Chelan, Trust for Public Land, CBC, etc.), thus separating it from any plans for affordable/workforce housing. We were told that this was a nonstarter.

What we have learned through public records is that in January of this year, Mr. Venugopal’s team asked the City of Chelan to assess the necessary municipal water system upgrades needed for a development that included 80 homes on 10-acre lots (with the math suggesting that this would be over the roughly 800 acres zoned for tourist accommodation) and 120 homes at a higher density (presumed to be in the residentially-zoned eastern portion), for a total of 200 homes. Although this request was eventually put on hold, it provides some insight into what is being considered for the Butte. Note that 80 homes built on land zoned for tourist accommodation could easily house 800 or more tourists during the high season and 120 residential homes could add another 300 or so people traveling up and down from the Butte each day.

We have also been told that at least 50 percent of the roughly 900 acres would be conserved for public use under Mr. Venugopal’s development plan; however, it is clear that this would not prevent development from occurring across the entirety of the face of the Butte. We will continue to press for a much greater percentage of the Butte being preserved and for no development to occur on the face of the Butte.

We hope you have made it this far into this email. As you can tell, things are starting to heat up and actions are being taken by those who would like to see the Butte developed, although no proposal has yet been officially submitted. As we follow these actions, we realize that we (CBC board members) do not necessarily have the regulatory expertise to evaluate all aspects of whether or not actions being taken comply with city, county, and state regulatory requirements. Due to the importance of this issue to the residents and visitors to the Lake Chelan Valley, we feel we would be remiss to not seek out professional assistance in reviewing significant actions taken relative to development of the Butte. As such, we intend to seek out professional consultation, which we realize will come at a financial cost.

As a result, we have two requests of this audience: 1) if any of you have expertise in land use regulations pertaining to this type of development (or know of anyone who does) and would be willing to volunteer your time, we would appreciate your assistance, and 2) if this issue is important to you, please consider donating to CBC (through our website or to our P.O. Box noted below) to help defray the cost of professional consultation.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who stopped by CBC’s booth at the Lake Chelan Earth Day Fair on April 15th as well as everyone who submitted photos representing what the Chelan Butte means to them. To view a video of the photos submitted showing the randomly-chosen winners, check out the video titled “CBC Save the Butte Photo Contest” at our YouTube channel.

Lastly, we would like to thank one of our newer partners in this effort, the Butte Brand apparel company (www.buttebrand.com). Many of you are getting this email because you signed our petition to preserve the Chelan Butte in response to a social media post by Butte Brand (our email list for this project is now at nearly 3,100!). In addition, they donated the eight prizes that we awarded the winners of our Butte photo contest.

Thank you for your continued support and please let us know if you have any questions, comments, or other input that would be helpful.

Brian Patterson
Chelan Basin Conservancy President

on behalf of the CBC board:
Lisa Garvich – Vice President
Tony Crosetto – Treasurer
Mary Bider – Secretary

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Chelan Basin Conservancy
PO Box 1073
Chelan WA 98816

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