Chelan County uses reserve funding to balance budget

WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Commission used about $1.7 million of its "rainy day" funding to help close a $2.2 million budget hole in 2021.

The 2021 general fund expense budget is over $47.3 million, up from $45.3 million in 2020, according to Chelan County documents. The budget in 2020 was $660,000 over and this year the county had to tack on an additional $1 million, said Cathy Mulhall, Chelan County administrator.

"So really we're adding a million dollars to the shortfall, which is not a good ongoing trend," Mulhall said. "But it's not unexpected either, I would say."

Chelan County creates short-term rental task force

WENATCHEE — The Chelan County Commission voted Dec. 29 to create a task force to look at the short-term rental draft code.

Chelan Community Development Director Jim Brown said the task force will include:

  • Three people in support of the short-term rental industry
  • Three people in support of new regulations to manage the number of rentals and nuisances
  • One member of the Chelan County Planning Commission.

They will have three months to try to find a middle road between issues, such as allowing existing short-term rentals to remain as non-conforming uses.

Chelan County Commissioner Bob Bugert is taking the lead.

The commission asked for one recommendation each from the Short Term Rental Alliance of Chelan County and Residents United for Neighbors, the two groups on opposite sides of the regulation debate.

Proposed riverfront apartments move closer to construction

WENATCHEE — If completed, the Riverfront Village Apartments would be the largest single housing complex in Wenatchee.

The developer behind the project applied for building permits in late December, bringing the complex one step closer to life and setting the stage for the next chapter of Wenatchee's downtown waterfront development.

The project would include about 454 units spread across five buildings standing five stories tall. They would be located on the former Lineage Logistics campus on the corner of North Worthen and Fifth streets.

The developer is Redmond-based Anandacom LLC, a commercial real estate company that builds and manages a range of residential and retail projects, according to its website.

The only active project listed on its website is Wenatchee's, which it says will "set a new standard for the city."

The current plans call for three 99-unit buildings, one 84-unit building and one 73-unit building. A one-story recreation building, a pool and roughly 540 parking spaces are also planned.

The existing vacant cold-storage and office buildings on the site would be demolished to make way for the apartments, according to the documents.

The building permit applications are under review with city planners.

Minimum wage goes to $13.69 per hour starting Jan. 1

TUMWATER — The state's new hourly minimum wage of $13.69 went into effect Jan. 1. It's up from $13.50 in 2020.

The increase applies to wages for workers age 16 and older. State law allows employers to pay 85% of the minimum wage to workers ages 14-15. For 2021, that wage is $11.64 per hour.

For details, go to L&I's website, lni.wa.gov.

Pinnacles Prep set to transform Community Center into a new school

WENATCHEE — A new charter school in Wenatchee is now a step closer to reality as Pinnacles Prep took over management of the Community Center Campus, 504 S. Mission St., on Jan. 1.

The charter school group entered into a lease agreement with the city of Wenatchee to manage the campus for the next 30 years. The deal is broken into five, six-year terms.

"Right now, we just received the keys to our new building. The physical school is going to basically happen over the next seven months. We are doing a bunch of remodeling within the current spaces to make it so it works well for our learning purposes and learning model," said Pinnacles Prep Principal Jill Fineis.

New to the Pinnacles Prep team is Sean Koester as director of operations. He has been in New York for the past three years as a project manager in the engineering department of the city of Kingston.

Previously, he worked for Cascade Fisheries and served on the city of Wenatchee Arts, Recreation and Parks Commission, the Wenatchee Valley Sports Council, and was active with Chelan-Douglas CASA.

The first day of school at Pinnacles Prep is planned for Aug. 24.

Chamber announces business, nonprofit award finalists

WENATCHEE — A credit union, a ski resort and an insurance agency have more in common than a Wenatchee address — all three are finalists in the Wenatchee Valley Chamber of Commerce's annual business of the year award.

The winner of the trio — Heidi Huddle's Allstate Insurance, Mission Ridge Ski & Board Resort and Numerica Credit Union — will be announced at the chamber's virtual banquet on March 4.

The three finalists for the 2020 Nonprofit of the year are Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance, Wenatchee Downtown Association and Chelan-Douglas Community Action Council.

For details on the upcoming banquet, held virtually for the first time this year because of the COVID-19 health restrictions, are coming soon, according to a chamber press release.

For details, go to wenatchee.org or call 662-2116.

Douglas County nears completion of Wenatchi Landing

EAST WENATCHEE — Douglas County's Wenatchi Landing project is nearing completion, setting the stage for development of the land at Odabashian Bridge and Sunset Highway.

The project only needs to go through several procedural processes in the next couple months.

The county and the Douglas County Sewer District completed the extension of sewer lines along Empire Street in November, Douglas County Commissioner Marc Straub said. The East Wenatchee City Council also approved an overlay district in September.

The landing is about 80 acres of property near the Odabashian Bridge. In 2019, the state Legislature provided Douglas County with about $4 million to extend a sewer line into the Wenatchi Landing area.

The Douglas County Planning Commission reviewed that zoning overlay Jan. 13 and will forward its recommendation to the Douglas County Commission, which will hold a public hearing and vote on whether to approve the overlay.

A zoning overlay gives special privileges to an area to encourage economic growth, Straub said. In particular, the Wenatchi Landing overlay will allow mixed uses, so residential and commercial structures could be built next to each other.

Some of the ideas mentioned in previous reporting for the area include a hotel, apartments and a winery.

Icicle Broadcasting plans to sell its Chelan stations

WENATCHEE — Icicle Broadcasting on Jan. 12 announced plans to sell three of its four radio stations, with the goal of finding a local buyer.

KOZI-FM/AM, which covers Chelan, and KZAL-FM, whose signal covers the Wenatchee Valley, will be put on the market, while KOHO-FM, which serves the Wenatchee Valley, will remain with Icicle Broadcasting, according to a press release.

"KOZI is a well-known part of the Chelan community and it is very important to us to make sure that KOZI remain a local resource," Icicle Broadcasting General Manager Elliott Salmon said in a press release. "Our owner, Harriet Bulitt, has always been committed to local radio and she feels strongly that KOZI/KZAL should stay in local hands."

The sale of the three stations, which will be based in Chelan and have a combined total of six employees, could take months. Icicle Broadcasting will continue to operate all four stations until a sale is completed.

Media broker Patrick Communications has been retained to handle the sale.

KOZI-FM 93.5 provides an adult contemporary format. KOZI-AM 1230 has a local sports and news/talk format. KZAL-FM 94.7, known as Z-Country, features contemporary country music.

According to the press release, the restructuring and sale is designed to "preserve the viability of the company's mission of community radio."

State agency considers $3.5 million for Dryden wastewater treatment center

DRYDEN — The Chelan County PUD could receive up to $3.5 million to improve Dryden's wastewater treatment center.

The state Department of Ecology is in the draft process for awarding clean water projects across the state, according to a news release from the agency. The PUD could receive a $2.5 million grant and a $1 million low-interest loan to revamp Dryden's treatment center, which has been leaking phosphorus into the Wenatchee River.

The agency is awarding $282 million for projects statewide. Ecology is accepting public comments on the projects until 5 p.m., Feb. 14. People can comment on the proposals at wwrld.us/38KTZ4L.

Final approval of the awards will be dependent on the state Legislature's approval of the 2021 to 2023 biennial budget. The agency will release the list of final recipients on July 1.

La Javelina brings its own good mood to Leavenworth

LEAVENWORTH — Gabrielle Page and Phillip Lehman are sharing tastes of their Texan roots at their new restaurant, offering options that might be familiar to those frequenting the Leavenworth Community Farmers Market.

La Javelina Texas Kitchen opened Nov. 27 at 285 U.S. Highway 2, offering, as Page put it, "a playful but modern menu of nostalgic flavors from our upbringing in Texas."

The menu, adapted for takeout as part of the COVID-19 restrictions, includes tacos for all occasions — with ingredients ranging from smoked pork to honey-braised duck legs to caramelized squash, sweet potato and black beans — along with similar variations of sandwiches. Chili, soup and sides of black beans and braised collard greens are in the mix, along with bread pudding, chile relleno or barbecued pork kolache, jalapeno cornbread and palvarones (almond wedding cookies). La Javelina also includes a full range of coffee, juice, beer, wine and cocktails.

Page and Lehman built a following through their booth at the Leavenworth Community Farmers Market. Their plan was to eventually open a brick-and-mortar space, a move supported by their education and experience.

Their farmers market connections helped them take the next step. Page served on the farmers market board with Good Mood Food owners Kurt and Nadine Witowski.

When the Witowskis announced plans to move on to other endeavors after 10 years running their cafe, Page and Lehmann stepped up.

"It seemed like the perfect space to move into," Page said of the 1,000-square-foot space just off Highway 2. "We signed our business purchase agreement in November 2019 and we were supposed to take over in the spring, right when the 'stay at home' order started."

They opened with six employees and are anticipating doubling that once COVID-19 safety concerns ease, which will allow them to build the catering side of the business and offer in-house dining.

County officials consider regional mental health center

NCW — County commissioners in North Central Washington are looking into the possibility of a regional mental health center that could handle people under involuntary confinement.

The project is in its very early stages, with a committee being formed to look into the feasibility of such an endeavor, Chelan County Commissioner Kevin Overbay said. Douglas County Commissioner Marc Straub and Okanogan County Commissioner Chris Branch have also expressed interest, he said.

The idea came about in part because Eastern and Western state hospitals are often full and not accepting additional patients, Overbay said.

Wenatchee WinCo store to open Feb. 1

WENATCHEE — Time to sharpen those grocery-bagging skills.

WinCo Foods will open at 9 a.m. Feb. 1 in the 84,000-square-foot former Shopko building at 1340 N. Wenatchee Ave., at the north end of the Valley North Shopping Center.

The new store brings with it jobs for 150 to 180 full- and part-time employees, along with customer access to what the company calls "Low Prices — Every Aisle, Every Department, Every Day." Operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the store features a full produce section along with deli, bakery, meat and bulk foods departments, according to a news release from the employee-owned Boise-based company.

As at WinCo's 129 other locations, customers in Wenatchee will have to bag their groceries, "though we certainly help folks who may need help," company spokesperson Noah Fleisher said.

It's part of the company's cost-saving strategy. The store also does not accept credit cards, but does take cash, checks, debit, WIC and EBT cards.

Wenatchee WinCo's construction and remodel project, estimated on city building permits to cost about $6 million in labor and materials, officially got started about three months after Shopko closed here after filing for bankruptcy.

WinCo, which is leasing the Wenatchee property from Kellogg Shopco Properties, has adapted several former Shopko stores for its own use, including locations in Eugene and Bend, Oregon, and Missoula, Montana.

Store representatives met Wenatchee city officials for a pre-application meeting in August 2019. The building permit application was submitted in November.

The preliminary review determined the new store has plenty of parking, with 400 spaces on the total 7-acre parcel. Traffic and access, though, required a closer look, with concerns focused on Maple Street, which is also the access point to the busy U.S. post office, and the already congested intersection at Maple Street and North Wenatchee Avenue.

As part of the permitting process, WinCo dedicated right of way on the northeast corner of the property for future widening of Maple Street's eastbound right-turn lane and made traffic signal upgrades and modifications.

The company also reworked the property's Maple Street entrances.

Moses Lake WinCo Foods filled a gap

WENATCHEE — WinCo's pending arrival in Wenatchee provides shoppers with a different grocery shopping experience.

The low-cost grocery chain keeps prices down with its no-frill approach — it doesn't take credit cards and customers bag their own groceries.

Expectations are that it will increase competition for existing grocery stores, large and small, but the long-term impact remains to be seen.

In Moses Lake, the arrival of WinCo in 2017 was the culmination of a successful recruitment campaign conducted by the Moses Lake Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the Grant County Economic Development District.

"We actually had a study that showed we needed two new grocery stores in town," chamber President Debbie Doran-Martinez said. The idea was that it would help keep shoppers from traveling to Wenatchee, Spokane or the Tri-Cities for big grocery trips.

"We actively started recruiting in 2012 or 2013 at RECon (an annual retail recruitment event in Las Vegas)," she said. "We started the conversation in the first year. Initially, they didn't think they had the numbers they said they needed. But they did their due diligence and saw the trending pattern of population growth," she said. "They crunched the numbers and saw that it was doable."

Moses Lake is the shopping and medical service hub for the county of about 100,000 residents, plus another 20,000 from Lincoln and Adam counties.

"WinCo has been a win for the economy," Doran-Martinez said. "There's been no negative impact to the existing stores we had."

The company built a new 58,000-square-foot building on North Stratford Road and was the chain's 114th store when it opened in 2017. Wenatchee is WinCo's 130th store.

"WinCo provided a kind of in-between from the traditional grocery store to the warehouse stores," Doran-Martinez said. "People will still shop out of town if they're going for some other reason, but more are shopping here. They complemented the mix of existing traditional grocers here because they have a different model. Every consumer has their own preferred style. It's an alternative."

Recruiting continues for a second grocery store, she said, as well as for retail stores, which also has been a focus.

About 20 retail businesses have located to the area because of their efforts, she said, including Ross and Marshall's.

"We're still trying to attract a sit-down restaurant in the vicinity of our hotels," she said.

The pandemic has slowed some of the efforts, she said, but the region is poised to take off.

"We have a 3% population growth rate, year over year. We could see more population increase if some of the industrial opportunities land here. There's a lot of interest right now. Our economic development organization is one of the busiest in the state," she said. "We haven't seen a lot of new construction of facilities, but we have a lot of site selection going on. They're securing property now and will do the building later."

County postpones short-term rental moratorium decision 

WENATCHEE — Chelan County commissioners postponed a decision Jan. 19 on whether to extend the current moratorium on new short-term vacation rentals following a two-hour hearing.

All three commissioners said they need time to consider the testimony of the dozens of people who spoke and 66 pages of submitted written comments.

The commissioners are expected to make a decision at 10:15 a.m. Feb. 2.

People who spoke during the public hearing raised concerns about the need to do basic maintenance on their property; the moratorium also bans remodeling and expansions. Some short-term rental owners in the Manson area said they chose not to pay for a permit in 2020 because of COVID-19, but didn't realize it would preclude them from getting one in 2021.

Other residents spoke in favor of the moratorium, saying it is necessary until permanent regulations are in place. Neighbors continue to experience conflict with short-term renters and the moratorium itself is a compromise until regulations are in place, some at the public hearing said.

Entiat business owner featured on ‘Undercover Billionaire’

ENTIAT — Hiring a new employee comes with its uncertainties. They might need a lot of training or, in Alex Fardell's case, they might secretly already be a well-weathered entrepreneur.

Fardell had no idea last summer he was hiring someone on "Undercover Billionaire," a reality TV show about building a business from scratch. The reality series puts an entrepreneur in a random city with $100, a car and asks them to create a successful business in 90 days.

This whole year has been up and down, but working with entrepreneurs on the show was "just a real nice treat, real special," said Fardell of Fardell Farms.

Fardell is an Entiat native who has been trying to expand his fruit business.

His family owns the Fardell Farms fruit store in Entiat and he keeps busy on both sides of the Cascades, spending time at the farm in Entiat and running another fruit shop in Tacoma, Fardell Farms Point Ruston.

The undercover entrepreneur, Monice Idlett-Mosley, posed as a single mom in a new beginnings documentary, when she met Fardell at his fruit stand in August. That's how she explained the camera crew following her around.

She asked for a job. He said yes.

"I hired her pretty much right there on the spot," he said. Fardell had no idea Idlett-Mosley was already a successful businesswoman and on the TV show "Undercover Billionaire."

"We didn't know any of this as it was all happening," he said.

Fardell said he expected her to ask a lot of questions during her first day on the job, but she just put her purse down and started selling everything. It was like, "Oh my gosh, best employee ever," he said.

She started helping out at the store on the weekends. Months went by before Fardell found out Idlett-Mosley was on "Undercover Billionaire."

The business plan Idlett-Mosley created was to make a rolling juice shop with fruit from Fardell's family farm. It has opened up another door of opportunity, he said.

Fardell said he had been through a lot in 2020 and that his experiences with Idlett-Mosley helped get him through the year.

Idlett-Mosley shared all her undercover secrets at a reveal party in November. "It was definitely a shock," Fardell said.

Those looking to catch "Undercover Billionaire" can stream it on Discovery Channel or find it on TV airing Wednesdays.