March 21, 2012 in City

Airport to acquire land in crash zone

Buildings to be razed when leases are up
By The Spokesman-Review
Graphic by Molly Quinn photo

The Spokane City Council approved the purchase of two parcels near Felts Field located in the most restrictive “airport compatibility zone,” where development is limited.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Map of this story's location

Spokane International Airport will pay nearly $2 million for land it wants to keep bare near Felts Field.

The purchase of 6.9 acres, which includes three commercial buildings, is intended to improve the safety of Felts, airport officials say.

“That was just good stewardship of land and a safety issue,” said Spokane City Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin, a member of the airport board.

The international airport, which is owned jointly by the city of Spokane and Spokane County, operates Felts Field. The Spokane City Council unanimously approved the purchase of the commercially developed land on Monday. The Spokane County Commission will consider the deal on Tuesday.

Last year the city adopted new airport crash zones that create new standards and restrictions around Felts Field and the Spokane International Airport. The property approved for purchase by the City Council is in “airport compatibility zone 1,” Felts Fields’ most restrictive zone.

“Ideally, from a safety perspective, you wouldn’t have any above-ground structures” in the most restrictive zone, said Louis Meuler, the city planner who oversaw the creation of the airport zones. He said the city still allows homes to be built in that zone because there are empty lots within the area, and banning building on them may have constituted an unfair taking of property rights.

Much of the land around Felts, even within crash zones, has been developed for decades. The airport pursues the purchase of property in the most restrictive zones as it goes on the market, said airport CEO Larry Krauter.

Krauter said that two companies have leases on the property that end this summer. The airport likely will start removing the structures late this year after the leases are up. One building is the former home of Colvico Inc., an electrical contracting business that moved to a building on Pittsburg Street in North Spokane last year.

The airport agreed to pay $1.8 million for the property. The value recently dropped from $1.9 million to $1.6 million, according to county assessor records. But Lembeck Appraisal and Consulting Inc. appraised it at $1.8 million, Krauter said.

The parcels are owned by Craig Dore and Sheila Valorose of Lafayette, Calif.; Robert and Judith Locker of Harrison, Mont.; and Derek and Melissa Pilch of Pleasanton, Calif., who bought it in 2005 for $1.8 million.

Krauter said the airport is hopeful that 90 percent of the cost of the property and demolition will be reimbursed by the Federal Aviation Administration.

Also on Monday, the City Council approved the airport’s purchase of 9.1 acres adjacent to the west end of the Spokane International Airport in a deal that will be considered next week by the county commission. The land is owned by Gerald Gilbreath of Post Falls, who bought it in 2005. The county assesses the land at $52,000, but Krauter said it was recently appraised at $100,000. The airport has agreed to pay $102,000.

Last year, Gilbreath said his property had been “basically rendered useless” after a mining company tried to buy his land and adjacent county land for a mining operation. The sale collapsed because of concerns from Fairchild Air Force Base officials that mining could have caused water to pool and attract birds. The property is within a base accident protection zone that restricts development.

“The property that I have is zoned for mining,” Gilbreath said last year. “If they want to stop us from mining, then they can purchase it and do whatever they want to with it.”

County officials have been trying to sell excess property they bought in the past decade to realign the Geiger Spur, a railroad line that serves the West Plains.

Now it appears the county may have an interested buyer. Airport spokesman Todd Woodard said the airport is interested in purchasing land, including the county’s, between Fairchild and the airport.

“If the property was offered voluntarily, at a fair price – verified by an appraisal, and to the extent the airport has the financial resources to complete the acquisition, we would consider the purchase,” Woodard said in an email.

Some airport officials have expressed frustration in recent years about some adjacent development, including the approval by Spokane County in 2006 of a child care center in the crash zone of a future airport runway.

McLaughlin said the airport is interested in land to create a “bridge” to prevent development that could harm the base and potential expansion of the airport.

“We should be at the table looking at our options,” McLaughlin said.

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