March 17, 2013 in Opinion

Special to The Spokesman-Review: Think about West Plains growth

Patrick Rushing

A series of recent events has renewed discussion about how best to manage the interests of Fairchild Air Force Base and the need for growth on the West Plains. Mere mention of the topic elicits plenty of opinions and opens a debate that eventually turns to encroachment.

At the root of the problem is the word itself, which has meaning to many but lacks a clear, universal definition. Merriam-Webster defines encroachment as “To advance beyond the usual or proper limits.”

“Usual” and “proper” leave plenty of room for interpretation, and therein is the rub. Who defines proper? What is the timeline against which the limits are determined? What is the proper way to factor a changing set of variables? How do you establish boundaries that are flexible enough to seize good opportunities, but restrictive enough to safeguard what is already in place?

People, organizations and jurisdictions line up on both sides of the debate to further their arguments and points of view. Perspectives are divergent and emotions can run high in the pursuit of balancing needed growth on the West Plains and the future of Fairchild.

Even if the path forward is fiercely debated, we must remember we all share the same interest in the health and prosperity of Fairchild. A robust, factual dialogue is healthy, productive and necessary to ensure the long-term prosperity of the base and region.

Few debate the importance of Fairchild. It is widely considered to be among the region’s greatest assets. The base provides 5,000 jobs to service members and civilian employees who live, work and play in the Inland Northwest. It is deeply ingrained in the fabric of our community, with a legacy that dates to the 1950s, and holds much promise to continue for years to come.

All of that is overwhelmingly positive for the Inland Northwest and the military.

Protecting and supporting Fairchild as a regional asset while creating a friendly and safe community for businesses and citizens has always been a top priority.

When growth is well-managed, it complements base activities. In fact, thriving retail services and attractive amenities in close proximity to its installations go hand-in-hand with what the military considers appropriate and compatible uses.

Regular and ongoing discussions with the command staff at the base have informed and shaped the West Plains land-use discussion over the past several years. That dialogue has created a free-flow exchange of priorities, concerns and ideas to continue the decadeslong partnership between the community and the base. It has also afforded tremendous insight into how to support base operations.

Recently, the city of Airway Heights enhanced its land-use standards to promote efficient and smart growth and ensure compatible uses that further economic development for the community and region. The regulations, known as Joint Land Use Standards, follow Department of Defense recommendations for maintaining a buffer around the base.

JLUS overlays the various existing standards Airway Heights has put in place, such as the Accident Potential Zones areas and noise contours, known as Air Installation Compatible Use Zone standards, which guide and restrict development.

JLUS is an important regional priority, and Airway Heights has been an active partner committed to its implementation as a necessary step in building for the future.

Spokane County and the city of Spokane have established similar land-use regulations.

Thoughts, input and action from all of the interested jurisdictions are an example of the benefits of the information exchange between stakeholders.

Adopting regulations that further define appropriate development areas establishes clarity that allows the West Plains and region to grow with the base and its missions. Those regulations provide criteria for evaluating new development and their place within the community.

Ensuring a prosperous present and robust future requires open dialogue, solid facts and critical analysis using established, accepted criteria. Let’s build from what we have toward a strong future we can all live with.

Consider the facts. Challenge assertions. Arrive at your own conclusions.

Patrick Rushing is the mayor of Airway Heights.

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