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Planners approve land rules

Preventing Fairchild encroachment drives county action

The Spokane County Planning Commission on Thursday unanimously approved a series of land-use rules that will help protect Fairchild Air Force Base from encroachment by surrounding development.

But in approving the rules, the commission struck a requirement that property owners notify potential purchasers and residential lessees that noise from jet aircraft may be a problem in the vicinity of the air base. Also, a requirement that a title notice would have to be filed for any new subdivisions or construction projects was removed.

Commission Chairwoman Joyce McNamee said the fact that military aircraft create noise around the base is an obvious fact that doesn’t need to be part of the land-use rules.

In addition, the Planning Commission opposed a requirement that developers consult with air base staff before moving ahead with project plans.

McNamee said the commissioners found that it would be better for the planning department to work with the base on questions of the compatibility of new development within defined military influence areas.

County Commissioner Al French said the Planning Commission action is “good news” because it means the county will have the land-use rules in place prior to Air Force deliberations on where to locate the first in a new generation of Boeing KC-46A tankers.

State and local leaders are promoting Fairchild to be the first new tanker base.

Equipping the base for new tankers is expected to bring a $200 million investment, some of which would be spent locally.

Local officials, business leaders and former Air Force brass said land-use protection from encroachment will play a role in whether Fairchild gets chosen for the new tankers, as well as its long-term future in the face of anticipated defense budget cuts.

Department of Defense recommendations seek notification for noise issues so that people within the military influence areas will be aware of the noise.

The idea is to reduce complaints and community pressure against air base operations, especially circular training flights.

“We can fix it,” French said of the Planning Commission’s recommendations. County commissioners expect to adopt the rules next month.

The cities of Spokane, Airway Heights and Medical Lake are moving ahead with similar land-use plans to protect Fairchild from encroachment, all in an effort to ensure that Fairchild and the civilian community can coexist.

The Air Force is expected to issue its criteria for selection of the first base to get new tankers next month and make a decision later this year.

The encroachment issue has become a concern with the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino near the air base. However, the county rules recommended Thursday would not apply to the casino, since the sovereign tribe is not subject to local regulation. The tribe has an agreement with Airway Heights, which plans to annex the land the casino would sit on just west of Craig Road, to establish encroachment protection.