September 8, 2013 in Opinion

Editorial: Latest threat to Fairchild a tangle, but needs fix

 

Any threat to Fairchild Air Force Base puts local officials on high alert.

A proposed levy that would fund removal of trailers in the base crash zone is the latest effort to assure the U.S. Air Force nothing will be allowed to compromise Fairchild’s mission. Now, they worry that even a potential rezone of property adjacent to the trailer parks could undo what the de-trailering is intended to do: Wrap the base in as much compatible land use as possible.

Compatible, as in non- or low-density residential.

The concern echoes those surrounding the Spokane Tribe’s proposed casino, another development government and business leaders fear will send the Air Force the wrong signal regarding the community’s determination to keep Fairchild open, and its 5,000 military and civilian personnel on the job.

And again, the city of Airway Heights finds itself in the role of bad guy.

In July, Fairchild commander Col. Brian Newberry wrote City Planner Derrick Braaten a letter stressing concern that land parcels between the trailer parks and U.S. Highway 2 might be rezoned to allow construction of multifamily housing. Although not within the crash zone, the location between Fairchild and Spokane International Airport is problematic.

“We strongly do not recommend increasing residential development in that area,” Newberry wrote.

Braaten says the pressure on Airway Heights is unjustified, and lays some blame for the situation on Spokane County, which rezoned nearby land to multifamily in 2005. The county rescinded the rezoning in 2007, but in the meantime apartments sprouted up.

“We got left a mess,” he says, “and we’re trying to clean it up.”

That is correct, but the city’s sympathies have been suspect since it sided with the Spokane Tribe and its casino, annexing the site to insulate it from county zoning that might have blocked that development should the U.S. secretary of the interior and Gov. Jay Inslee give it their OKs. The casino is overwhelmingly opposed by most other business and government officials.

Spokane County Commissioner Al French says officials are looking for ways to satisfy the Air Force, yet allow the largest owner of affected property to get the best price for her property, which she tried to sell to the airport three years ago. Housing is not the issue, just the potential density, he says.

Braaten, by the way, notes that no one has asked for a rezone of any of the property south of the highway.

This is truly a mess, one that comes at a bad time for the county as it tries to pass a property tax levy, and for the base.

Fairchild anxiety has become a chronic condition with but one cure: an Air Force decision to assign KC-46A tankers to the base’s 92nd Air Refueling Wing, almost surely assuring its survival in an expected round of closures later this decade. Fairchild was passed over for the initial deployments.

We will make a recommendation on the proposed levy as the election nears. Fairchild must be preserved, but sometimes the way forward is murkier than West Plains fog.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com.

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