New land-use rules to protect Fairchild Air Force Base from civilian encroachment won unanimous approval from Spokane County commissioners on Thursday.
They said the need to protect Fairchild as a military asset, but also an economic one, outweighed largely local concerns about the effect of the new rules on property values and uses.
“Fairchild Air Force Base is the No. 1 employer in the county,” said Commissioner Al French prior to the vote. “This is targeted to try and protect the base.”
Commissioners said the future of Fairchild and other military installations will remain in question as the Department of Defense launches two new rounds of base closures to meet federal budget cuts in coming years.
The zoning code protections enacted Thursday, they said, will not only help protect Fairchild from closure, but could also help attract the first in a new generation of refueling tankers being built by Boeing.
But they cautioned the new rules are no guarantee of Fairchild’s survival.
During public testimony on Tuesday, commissioners heard complaints from nearby property owners that the new law could devalue their property values and limit their uses.
The rules discourage or prohibit housing tracts, development that attracts large numbers of people, tall buildings, upward-facing light or glare and ponds that attract birds.
Crash zones at both ends of the runway get the greatest level of protection.
Existing land uses can continue, however.
The rules also require “avigation easements” on new development, noise insulation in new homes and notice to people who are considering moving into the defined military influence area with 65 decibels or more of jet noise.
Commissioners said existing growth management rules already limit rural residential uses near the base, and the new law adds little in the way of new restrictions.
“Should Fairchild close, what happens to property values?” Commissioner Todd Mielke asked.
Commissioner Mark Richard said, “We are really talking about national defense as well as economic development.”
The commissioners said they hoped their set of Fairchild protections would be the template for Airway Heights, Spokane and Medical Lake, all of which are considering similar encroachment codes.
Richard said he hopes that Airway Heights will back away from its current proposal to allow additional residential development in a military area with 65 to 69 decibels of jet noise.
In tweaking the rules, commissioners eased a requirement that any new homes near the air base be placed at the portion of the lot farthest from the runway.
Also, Richard won an amendment to strike a noise notice to any prospective property purchasers. He argued the existing real estate disclosure should be sufficient.
But commissioners retained a provision requiring notices to prospective lessees. The law also requires title notice on new plats, which would show up in a title report.
Commissioners also maintained the requirement for sending some new development plans to Fairchild staff for review or comment.
Anthony Whitehead, a rural land owner near Fairchild, said he was pleased with the changes made Thursday, but still fears that being in a designated military influence area may affect his property value.
Fred Zitterkopf, a former Fairchild base engineer and community advocate for the base, said he hopes the commissioners’ action is the first step in getting the new rules adopted by all four jurisdictions surrounding the base.
With those, he said, community leaders can now tell Defense Department officials, “We have made steps to protect Fairchild.”
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