March 5, 2009 in Washington Voices

Council agrees to study airport zoning policies

Will look at complaints on Felts Field restrictions
By The Spokesman-Review
 

The Spokane Valley City Council agreed Tuesday to consider compromising its protective standards for the Felts Field airport.

Also, the council finished its review of the proposed Sprague-Appleway Revitalization Plan and called for another public hearing.

At the request of Councilwoman Rose Dempsey, who reversed her previous position, the council voted 4-3 to add two automotive businesses to the proposed Gateway district for automotive businesses. With Councilmen Steve Taylor, Dick Denenny and Bill Gothmann dissenting, the council extended the boundary east from the Union Pacific Railroad tracks to Argonne Road.

The result was to bring Ruby Street Motors, 9020 E. Sprague Ave., and Ultimate Truck & Auto Accessories, 15 N. Argonne Road, into the district.

The council plans a public hearing on the plan April 14 or 28, depending on how soon a final draft can be disseminated for a 30-day public review.

In other business, the council unanimously agreed to oppose a state Senate bill that would eliminate the city’s two seats on the Spokane County Health Board and to take no position on legislation that would authorize a .9 percent sales tax for a light rail or bus rapid transit line.

The health board bill, sponsored by Sens. Chris Marr and Lisa Brown, both Spokane Democrats, would apply only to Spokane County. It would shrink the 12-member board down to nine and reduce the number of elected officials on the board from nine to three.

Marr has said the bill is needed because the Spokane Regional Health District “has been politicized,” a reference to the controversial firing nearly 2 ½ years ago of Dr. Kim Thorburn as the district’s chief health officer. The board has had difficulty finding qualified candidates, and still has not replaced Thorburn.

Currently, the board includes all three county commissioners, three elected officials from Spokane, two from Spokane Valley and one representing smaller cities. Three citizen-at-large representatives are appointed by county commissioners.

Spokane Valley is represented by Councilmen Denenny and Gothmann, who asked for Tuesday’s vote to oppose Substitute Senate Bill 5812.

The bill would create a health board composed of two county commissioners; a Spokane elected official; two physicians nominated by the Spokane County Medical Society; a health care professional and a citizen at large, both chosen by county commissioners; and two business representatives nominated by the “local chamber of commerce” to represent the restaurant and building industries.

“Believe it or not, what we have is running very smoothly,” Gothmann said, adding that he couldn’t think of any health board decision that wasn’t “excellent.”

He said he was “totally unaware that the Medical Society was unhappy until we heard about it a week ago,” but the board has since established a liaison position.

In any event, Gothmann preached to the choir, it’s bad policy to put unelected people in charge of public money and give them police power.

“We don’t ask the Army to run itself,” Gothmann said.

With regard to Felts Field, the council agreed to pursue one of five staff and Planning Commission proposals for dealing with property owners’ complaints about airport-related zoning restrictions. An ordinance is to be presented next month for debate.

Several council members saw the proposal as a compromise between the current regulations – based on the advice of state aviation officials – and options that would allow even more homes to be built. Generally, it would limit construction to properties with unused water or sewer stub lines that were installed before the current airport zoning regulations were adopted on Feb. 28, 2006.

A staff review found 224 lots with sewer stubs, and 79 with two or more sewer stubs. According to the report, there are 35 lots with unused water stubs and 12 with both water and sewer stubs.

Considering that the area already is mostly developed, Munson thought the new housing wouldn’t make much difference. Councilwoman Diana Wilhite said “it would be a miracle” if a plane crash missed one of the existing homes. Taylor also argued for the proposal, and Councilman Gary Schimmels said he “could support it.”

Denenny, who is a pilot, said he was “really conflicted” between the council-favored option and the status quo. He feared allowing more houses would generate additional airport-threatening noise complaints, especially if Felts Field starts serving larger aircraft.

Denenny and other council members liked a provision for noise warnings every time one of the new homes changes hands.

Gothmann, also a pilot, and Dempsey argued for the current restrictions.

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


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email