Efforts to protect Fairchild Air Force Base from civilian encroachment took a big step forward with approval of new land-use regulations by the city of Airway Heights.
The Airway Heights City Council on Monday unanimously approved a plan that follows recommendations from the U.S. Department of Defense for maintaining land buffers around the base for public safety.
City Manager Albert Tripp on Wednesday described the new rules as “steadfast and unwavering protections” for Fairchild.
Col. Brian Newberry, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, said he encouraged his staff to help finalize the Airway Heights plan in time for the holidays.
The new land-use plan guides residential development away from flight paths and also prevents the most intense commercial development from being built near those flight paths.
At the same time, the deal includes a verbal agreement by Spokane County commissioners to consider an expansion of Airway Heights’ urban growth area to the northeast away from the base. New residential development would be encouraged there in the future.
On properties closer to flight paths and jet noise, developers will have to undergo a conditional use process to minimize any conflicts between base operations and the developments.
In particular, the regulations require sound-deadening construction in new residential areas exposed to between 65 and 70 decibels of jet noise as well as notification to prospective buyers within those areas.
No residential uses will be allowed in areas having greater than 70 decibels of aircraft noise, including those directly under the runway approach. Areas closest to flight paths will only be able to have low-intensity commercial uses such as warehousing.
Existing residences within the so-called crash zone will eventually be relocated, but residents are going to continue living there for the time being, officials said.
“Protecting Fairchild has always been a top priority for Airway Heights,” said Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing.
He and other officials said the new regulations seek to balance property rights and the desire for economic growth with the need to protect Fairchild from encroachment.
The idea is to reduce complaints and community pressure against air base operations, especially near the base’s critical training patterns that circulate to the north.
Officials said that having the protections may help strengthen Fairchild’s position in Air Force deliberations on where to locate the first in a new generation of Boeing KC-46A tankers.
Spokane leaders have been pushing for Fairchild to be selected, seeing the new tankers as an economic boost.
Equipping the base for new tankers is expected to bring a $200 million investment, some of which would be spent locally.
Land-use protections may also help keep Fairchild off the closure list as bases are evaluated in coming years.
The city of Spokane and Spokane County have approved new land-use regulations that recognize the significance of protecting Fairchild and provide specific regulations near flight areas.
Medical Lake has yet to adopt its version of the plan.
The new regulations will not prohibit a proposed new casino by the Spokane Tribe north of U.S. Highway 2 and west of Craig Road near Fairchild.
However, Airway Heights officials said, tribal leaders have agreed to comply with encroachment protection and consult with the air base on development plans.
Approval for the casino is pending a decision by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs within the Department of Interior and a subsequent agreement with the Washington governor.