Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday said they are concerned that zoning changes proposed in Airway Heights could result in unnecessary encroachment on Fairchild Air Force Base.
The commissioners voted unanimously to object to the proposed changes.
Airway Heights officials said they are trying to create opportunities for residential growth, and to do so in a way that protects Fairchild while fitting into existing development patterns.
Local governments with territory near the air base are working on new land use rules that would prevent development that has negative impacts on military operations.
Portions of Airway Heights are beneath the main runway approach, and other areas are affected by noise from aircraft circling and approaching the air base.
As a result, Airway Heights is a key player in the protection effort.
Local officials are seeking ways to assure the Department of Defense that Fairchild will be protected from civilian encroachment in an effort to attract new tanker aircraft as well as avoid the possibility of closure in coming budget cuts.
A draft of the commissioners’ letter says that Airway Heights should “consider limiting development of urban residential where more appropriate.”
Derrick Braaten, city planner for Airway Heights, said there is a high demand for rental housing there but a limited number of apartments available.
In addition, manufactured housing in a critical zone of the runway approach needs to be relocated because that housing represents a more serious type of encroachment, Braaten said.
Allowing apartments in mixed-use zones outside of the runway path would alleviate the demand, which comes in part from service personnel seeking to live off base but near the main gate, he said.
“We have to diversify our housing stock,” Braaten said.
The proposal under consideration would reduce by half the land where apartments could be used. But a large segment of that land is within the noise zone that the Air Force would prefer not have residences.
In addition, the changes would open some commercial land to apartments under conditional-use permits.
Braaten said the city’s proposal tries to strike a balance among air base protection, public safety, property rights and economic growth.
The proposal goes before the Airway Heights Planning Commission for consideration at 6 p.m. April 23 in the city’s council chambers. The City Council should take up the issue later in the spring.
County Commissioner Mark Richard said that a steering committee formed to come up with anti-encroachment land-use policies has proposed tighter restrictions on residential development. Airway Heights officials initially agreed to them, he said.
Braaten said Airway Heights officials now disagree with the steering committee decision to expand land-use restrictions across a broad swath of that city.
Richard said that Airway Heights would not have demand for housing if Fairchild were closed due to encroachment.
“It would take decades to replace that kind of economic activity out there,” he said.