April 16, 2009 in Washington Voices

Council relaxes airport zoning

Compromise passes to ease rules adopted in 2006
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A divided Spokane Valley City Council agreed Tuesday to relax tough airport zoning restrictions they adopted in 2006 to protect Felts Field.

The regulations, based on state guidelines, were the most restrictive in Spokane County and essentially prohibited fill-in construction in residential areas close to the airport. Some property owners complained that they had paid for sewer and water stubs for houses they could no longer build.

Tuesday’s action was a compromise of a compromise.

The council was poised March 24 to liberalize the entire “airport overlay zone,” which adds restrictions to standard zoning designations. But Carter Timmerman, an aviation planner in the Aviation Division of the state Department of Transportation, suggested limiting the liberalization to the area south of Utah Street and Rutter Avenue – or the railroad tracks that run between those roads.

The area north of the tracks is closest to the airport.

Councilman Bill Gothmann moved Tuesday to adopt Timmerman’s suggestion, but Councilman Steve Taylor moved to amend the motion and allow property owners north of the dividing line to build houses if they had already installed stub sewer or water lines.

Taylor’s amendment, approved 4-3, extended to the north just one of three criteria that would allow new houses south of the line. Mayor Rich Munson and Councilwoman Rose Dempsey joined Gothmann in dissent.

With unanimous approval of the main motion, property owners south of the line will be allowed to build houses not only if they have existing sewer or water stubs, but if their land abuts other land with less restrictive underlying zoning or if their parcel already has more than one house – other than a mother-in-law cottage.

A staff analysis indicated 184 parcels south of the line had potential for further development, and Taylor’s amendment could add 42 north of the line.

Testimony was mixed between development and aviation interests.

Tanya Chesnut and Steve Blanford said they were unaware of the airport when they bought a double lot with the intention of adding a second house.

Sharon Panther said she and her husband bought an acre at 8004 E. Glass Ave. in the 1990s and installed “multiple” sewer stubs in 2005, a year before Spokane Valley imposed the airport restrictions that stifled their development plans.

“That was going to be our retirement,” she said. “It’s gone.”

Raymond Gunning and Josh Nerren had similar complaints.

Private land planner Dwight Hume and the Spokane Home Builders Association also called for fewer restrictions on development.

Timerman, on the other hand, brought photographs showing residential encroachment he said nearly killed an airport at Anacortes, Wash. Airport opponents gained seats on the governing port authority and came within one vote of closing the airport, he said.

Evergreen Airport in Vancouver, Wash., actually was shut down, Timmerman said.

Neal Sealock, who manages Felts Field as well as Spokane International Airport, defended zoning restrictions intended to protect Felts Field, which he said provides commercial services in addition to serving private pilots.

John Townsley, representing the Washington Pilots Association, agreed with Sealock. But Nancy Holmes said the Spokane Airport Tenants Association would support any of several options the council was considering to ease the restrictions.

Gothmann, who is a pilot, called Felts Field “a diamond that we need to take care of.”

Councilman Dick Denenny, also a pilot, said he wanted to prevent developments that could lead to problems for the airport in 20 years if not immediately. He noted plans call for a 550-foot runway extension to accommodate jet aircraft and cargo operations.

Sealock said he didn’t know when that might occur because no money is available.

“It’s not a shovel-ready project,” he said.

Gothmann calculated that the longer runway would cause landing aircraft to come in 35 feet lower and create more noise. If that happens, Taylor said, residents of existing homes – not to mention those in homes authorized Tuesday – will start to complain.

“That’s the point,” Sealock said.

But Taylor wasn’t convinced the runway extension should be allowed.

“I think the entire community needs to weigh in on whether bringing in larger aircraft is something that is compatible in an urban area,” Taylor said.

In other business, the council voted 5-2, to empower the city of Spokane to use Spokane Valley’s power of eminent domain if necessary to obtain land from Hite Crane and Rigging for a Havana Street bridge over railroad tracks that now block the street 16 hours a day. Councilwomen Diana Wilhite and Dempsey opposed the measure and other council members supported it reluctantly.

Although the needed land is in Spokane Valley, Havana is the city boundary and the project is being handled by Spokane. Under the agreement approved Tuesday, Spokane will pay all the acquisition costs and indemnify Spokane Valley from any liability.

John Craig may be contacted at johnc@spokesman.com.


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