The second phase of a West Plains apartment project opposed by Spokane International Airport, Fairchild Air Force Base and local economic development officials has been blocked by Spokane County Hearing Examiner Mike Dempsey.
In a ruling issued Thursday, Dempsey agreed with arguments the new construction could further jeopardize operations at both airfields, potentially endangering two of Spokane County’s most valued economic assets.
But the decision also strands investments by project owner Dick Vandervert, who completed the 156-unit first phase of the Deer Creek Apartments on Flight Drive last year. The construction just south of Highway 2 included a pool and other recreation facilities big enough to be used – and paid for – by residents of both phases.
Plans for the second phase call for an additional 124 units.
Vandervert was granted a non-conforming use permit for the apartment project before a moratorium on residential construction in some areas around the airports was imposed in October 2006. But he obtained a building permit only for Phase 1.
The moratorium became permanent in March 2007.
Vandervert told Dempsey at a May hearing that he was told the entire project was “vested” when he obtained his use permit.
He was not the only developer whipsawed when the county eased restrictions on residential development in light-industrial zones, then backtracked in response to concerns that housing and aviation are incompatible. Ambassadors Group set aside plans to put a day-care center in its new West Plains headquarters because an airport crash zone encompasses the site.
The pressure on local officials to discourage residential construction increased in April when a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration said the agency might not be willing to support further airport development if the apartment project went forward. The FAA has funded more than $90 million in improvements, including $30 million for the new control tower.
Sealock said Tuesday encroaching development is a challenge for all airports, not just Spokane’s.
“We just have to maintain vigilance,” he said.
Vandervert, who did not respond to a call for comment Tuesday, has until July 28 to appeal Dempsey’s ruling in Spokane County Superior Court.