Protecting Fairchild Air Force Base from encroachment, as well as from potential snipers or other threats, was the goal of emergency action by Spokane County commissioners Wednesday.
Commissioners adopted an interim zoning law that will bar development on 400 acres on the base’s eastern border, a fix to their recently adopted expansion of the urban growth area.
The action came after the base commander raised concerns in recent days that an industrial facility could provide a hiding place for a sniper – a concern that county commissioners said hadn’t been brought to them previously.
The action may also address concerns raised last week by Gov. Jay Inslee that the county’s expansion of industrial uses near Fairchild posed a threat to the base.
Inslee directed two state agencies – the departments of commerce and transportation – to appeal the county’s 4,100-acre urban growth area expansion adopted in July.
Wednesday’s action reduces the area where new dense residential or commercial development will be allowed to 3,700 acres.
The land affected is west of the Geiger Spur rail line, north of state Highway 902 and south of MacFarlane Road.
The governor specifically cited that property as one of the reasons for appealing the urban expansion to the Growth Management Hearings Board.
The state appeal joins an earlier petition to the hearings board by two advocacy organizations, several neighborhood groups and individual residents challenging the expanded urban growth area across the county.
Commissioner Al French said the county plans to make the change permanent following a formal public hearing in coming weeks.
French noted that the military cooperated with commissioners last year in adopting new land use controls in the vicinity of Fairchild, and the sniper concerns were never raised with county officials during the effort.
In a letter to the commissioners Tuesday, Col. Brian Newberry, commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing, outlined Air Force concerns.
He said that a rural traditional zone along the base boundary “provides a buffer to deny attack avenues of approach by potential adversaries. It also eliminates potential adversary advantaged attack positions from close-in structures targeting people or equipment on the base.”
Newberry went on to explain that during a review of the county’s urban area expansion, base staff “discovered that we had the potential to lose this security buffer.”
Base protection has been a high priority for local government and community leaders to ensure that Fairchild, one of the county’s largest employers, doesn’t land on the military’s base-closure list.
The county was joined by Spokane, Airway Heights and Medical Lake in adopting the protections.
Commissioners are asking county voters in November for a property tax increase to fund an estimated $18 million project to relocate manufactured homes in the air base’s crash zone.
At the same time, the county has been seeking to make land adjacent to the Geiger Spur rail line available for future light industrial development.
The Geiger Spur had previously crossed into the base but was rerouted by the county to eliminate an on-base security threat. Land acquired by the county next to the base for the rail relocation was sold to Spokane International Airport to be left as open space.
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