For years, officials in Airway Heights have talked about limiting residential growth south of U.S. Highway 2.
Flights from Fairchild Air Force Base pass over the area, and both military and civilian leaders favor limiting the number of homes under the flight path.
About 200 people live in the area that the Air Force considers unsafe. That includes property more than four blocks south of the highway.
Mike Patterson, city administrator at Airway Heights, said there is no money to buy out the property rights of land owners in the air protection zone.
As a result, people have been building and living in the area at their own risk.
“If a tanker goes down full of fuel, we’re in trouble,” Patterson said.
“It’s been a long-term debate, but nothing’s ever been done. Given the democracy we are in, we can’t walk in there and make people move.”
The state’s Growth Management Act may allow the city to limit future residential development south of U.S. 2 while encouraging more development north of the highway.
Spokane County and all of the cities in the county are starting to develop growth management ordinances.
Airway Heights officials have asked the county to provide a larger area for growth north of the highway to make up for the loss of new residential land south of the highway. At the same time, the city of Airway Heights wants to reserve the land south of the highway for commercial and industrial development.
Existing landowners in all likelihood would have to be given what are called “grandfather rights” to protect their current property investments, Patterson said.
Ken Kalin, a developer who owns property in the flight protection zone, said the land he purchased years ago was platted for residential use before the air base was built.
The city cannot take that right away, and he even sued the city of Airway Heights to preserve his rights, he said.
He owns the 100-unit Solar World Apartments, and trailer courts south of the highway.
“All of that is more socialism,” Kalin said of the growth management law. “They are trying to fix it so you can’t develop your property.”
He said he wanted to spend $3 million to expand the Solar World Apartments, but he has decided not to because he fears government officials would kill the expansion and he would lose his investment money.