Residents express varied sentiments about relocation from Fairchild crash zone
Residents of trailers in Fairchild Air Force Base’s crash zone said they have mixed feelings about a county-inspired effort to buy their trailer parks as a way of reducing civilian encroachment on the base.
Voters will be asked Nov. 5 to approve a property tax increase to pay for the acquisitions and relocations.
Spokane County commissioners are offering to buy six trailer parks with some 180 units if voters approve the ballot measure. A seventh park with just seven units also is eyed for acquisition.
In addition, the county has a $2.7 million state grant to buy Solar World, a complex of 103 apartments in the same area south of U.S. Highway 2.
All of the property is within Fairchild’s “accident potential zone” at the northeast end of the air base’s runway.
Officials describe the trailer parks as substandard, with many of the dwellings dating to the 1960s and 1970s. A lot of the yards are filled with trash and broken appliances.
“I would love to move,” said Melinda Spencer, a resident of the Lone Pine Mobile Estates. “I don’t like the jets flying over.”
But there is pride here.
“I’ve got $5,000 into it,” said Jody, who didn’t want to give her last name because of her opposition to the relocation. She said she lives on a Social Security disability pension and used what cash she had to purchase her trailer home and fix it up.
“If I wanted to be in an apartment, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Chris Bolinger works two part-time jobs washing dishes and lives in a run-down trailer with his brother-in-law, he said.
“Some people like it out here,” he said, and residents fear there won’t be anywhere to go if the county buys up the parks.
But County Commissioner Al French said no one is going to be evicted if voters approve the program. He said the county and Airway Heights officials will work with residents to find new places to live. The county will pay relocation costs through the ballot measure funding, he said.
French said the county is applying with the state to obtain a waiver so that older trailers can be moved if that’s what residents want to do.
Airway Heights Mayor Patrick Rushing said none of the properties will be condemned.
Closing the parks and moving their residents will remove a crash hazard that has been a concern of the Air Force for years.
Spokane business and economic development officials fear such encroachment would be a mark against Fairchild in any future base-closing decisions by the Air Force.
Losing the base would cause a cumulative $1.3 billion hit to the region’s economy in jobs and spending, French said.
Vacating the trailers and apartments would open the property for light industrial use, which typically meets Air Force standards for the number of people within a crash zone. The county would hold the property for sale.
The ballot measure’s cost to property owners would be about $14 a year on a $200,000 home. That tax would raise $18 million to $20 million for purchases and relocations and would be collected for no more than nine years, or until the relocation project is completed. A simple majority is required for lifting the state’s lid of 1 percent annual increases on regular property taxes.
Local governments in the past few years have adopted new land-use rules to minimize further encroachment.
County commissioners have offered purchase and sale agreements to the six parks’ landowners, contingent on passage of the ballot measure. Preliminary appraisals have been done but not made public. Final purchase prices will be based on a more complete appraisal if the ballot measure passes. Owners of the land would have the right to a second appraisal if they wish, officials said.
While the county pursues the acquisitions, a coalition of nonprofit organizations and government agencies is proposing construction of 160 affordable apartments northeast of Airway Heights.
The $20 million housing project is being spearheaded by Catholic Charities, which has been seeking a public works trust fund loan as part of the financing.
Also participating in the housing project are Community Frameworks, Habitat for Humanity, Greater Spokane Incorporated, the city of Spokane, Spokane County and Greenstone Corp.
Of the four property owners contacted for purchase of the six trailer parks, two are families in Spokane County and two are from outside the region.
Allen Bumgardner, a Spokane County resident and trustee of the Bumgardner Family Trust, said he and his family have enjoyed good income from their 16-unit Lone Pine property.
“It’s definitely not to my advantage to sell,” he said, but he believes keeping Fairchild open is an important economic issue for the community.
“It’s easier to cooperate and just go along than to be forced into that situation,” he said.
Susan Williams, of Medical Lake, is owner of the Aero Mobile Home Park with 36 units.
She and her husband, Greg, also own other rental income properties. “We don’t want to see the base closed,” she said.