CBC Efforts to Preserve Chelan Butte – Update #8 (6/16/23)

(emailed on June 16, 2023)

Hello supporters of the Chelan Butte,

The Chelan Basin Conservancy continues its efforts to preserve the Chelan Butte with your generous support. I’d like to start off by thanking everyone who responded to our request in the previous Chelan Butte update for financial support to hire a consultant and land use attorney to assist with issues that we do not have the technical expertise to address. We have received over $10,000 in response to this, which is enough to get us started. We anticipate that additional monies will be required as this effort proceeds, so we continue to request that donations be made through our website or to our mailing address at P.O. Box 1073, Chelan, WA 98816.

A number of events have transpired since the last update we sent out (all email updates can now be found on our website). As a reminder, we previously noted that the option holder/developer for roughly 900 acres on the Chelan Butte (Raja Venugopal) and the current property owner (Mike Shelton with Golden Gate Ventures) applied for a Boundary Line Adjustment (BLA) to convert the 30 large lots that existed at the time into 29 ten-acre lots and one large (roughly 600 acre) lot. This request did not meet with the intent of the BLA code (CMC 16.32), which specifically states that it is not meant to be used to circumvent the requirements normally associated with platting for subdivisions. However, the City of Chelan did not feel like they could deny the request based on some inconsistencies in the way the code was written (an issue that they have been aware of for some time), so the BLA was approved.

As can be seen from the set of 29 lots resulting from the BLA, it essentially created a de facto subdivision without having to go through the requirements for a subdivision. Worse, it was recently deduced from public testimony by Mr. Venugopal that their intention has been to use another portion of the code to subdivide the remaining roughly 600 acre parcel into multiple 20+ acre parcels, then re-apply the BLA code to again create multiple ten-acre parcels and one large remaining parcel. By applying this iteratively (four cycles of BLAs), the developer could theoretically create 78 ten-acre lots across the Butte (their stated Phase 1 goal) without having to meet any of the infrastructure, safety, or public comment requirements that would otherwise be mandatory for subdivisions.

Fortunately, the City of Chelan has recognized this potential abuse of the BLA code and, as mentioned in our last update, instituted an emergency moratorium on BLAs. There was a public hearing on the BLA moratorium on June 13th. Prior to the hearing, Mr. Venugopal unsurprisingly wrote a letter to the City opposing the BLA moratorium. In that letter, he threatened that if the City did not drop the moratorium he would have to “… consider a significantly denser development to ensure the project’s viability.” Current zoning for the properties under consideration would allow over 1,000 dwelling units that could be used as vacation rentals and hundreds of additional residential units. You can read Mr. Venugopal’s letter here and we are happy to answer any questions you may have by contacting us at chelanbasinconservancy@gmail.com.

At the hearing, Mr. Venugopal presented oral testimony reiterating the points of his letter as did Russ McClellan, the realtor representing the sale of the properties. CBC board members Tony Crosetto and I submitted separate written comments to the City Council, and board member Lisa Garvich presented oral testimony at the hearing, all in support of the moratorium. A couple of other members of the public provided oral testimony supporting the moratorium. Fortunately, the City Council unanimously upheld the moratorium.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that Mr. Venugopal’s message often points to his desire to create affordable housing, which most people would agree is a laudable goal. However, he has also made it clear that to do so, he needs to create high-end properties on prominent portions of the Butte to fund his affordable housing endeavors (most recently mentioning the creation of 78 ten-acre lots across the entire face of the Butte). The problem with this plan is that very few people in the Lake Chelan Valley feel that it is worth obtaining some unknown quantity of affordable homes in exchange for developing the face of the Butte. In fact, CBC has talked to some of the biggest affordable housing advocates in Chelan and they have expressed their feeling that this trade-off is not worth it and the community can figure out other ways to bring about more affordable housing.

The next steps in the BLA moratorium process will be for the Chelan Planning Commission to develop revised BLA code language and present it for public review and comment prior to consideration by the City Council. CBC will alert the public when the public hearing for the code is scheduled so that all interested parties can provide comments and/or attend the hearing. We are cautiously optimistic that the code revisions will prevent the scheme that was being pursued to create a large subdivision while avoiding the regulatory requirements for subdivisions.

As noted in our last update, several of you had previously contacted CBC about the newly-bulldozed road across the Butte properties discussed above. Normally, such bulldozing would require a number of permits, including a grading and filling permit from the City and a stormwater permit from the Department of Ecology. None of these permits were obtained. However, there was some gray area in this case due to the fact that there was an existing “road” in place that had been created over the years from a combination of farming decades ago on the west end and public access to the Butte on the east end.

The question then becomes whether or not the bulldozing can be considered routine maintenance of an existing road. CBC’s position is that the existence of the road path created by public access to the property does not constitute a formal road and the lack of previous maintenance activities by the property owner precludes any argument that the bulldozing was routine maintenance. As a result, we have filed code violation complaints with both the City and the Department of Ecology with extensive documented backup materials (including historical aerial photos of the “road”, which started out as more of a trail). We will continue to follow-up on these complaints.

We are also working with the Trust for Public Land to begin the Chelan Butte Acquisition Feasibility Study that was recently funded by the state legislature as noted in our previous update (the funding will arrive in July). It is hoped that the study will be completed near the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024. It will include public input as to the potential recreational uses of any land on the Butte that can be acquired on behalf of the public.

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

Brian Patterson
Chelan Basin Conservancy President

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

Chelan Basin Conservancy
P.O. Box 1073
Chelan, WA 98816
www.chelanbasinconservancy.org

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