Spokane city leaders got a mixed message this week from landowners opposing stricter development rules near the Spokane International Airport.
On one hand, developers argued for more freedom to build near the airport: “You’re looking at a small but dedicated group of individuals who want to see this area of Spokane developed and built in uses that are mostly compatible with the airport,” said Elizabeth Tellessen, an attorney representing Ambassadors Group, which constructed a new headquarters near the airport in 2006.
On the other, officials were warned against planning for a new runway near their land: “The cases decided by the Supreme Court have found that air traffic, noise and vibrations causes damage that’s a compensable damage to the property owners – and so I would encourage you guys to take the time to look at the properties that are not owned by the airport that will be directly impacted by these overlay zones.
The City Council opted to approve the new “airway overlay zones” (more commonly called crash zones) for the airport and Felts Field as well as convert county zoning on the West Plains to compatible city zoning in a series of 6-1 votes Monday night. Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin cast the dissenting votes.
The moves, which were supported by airport officials, were made in preparation of the city annexing 10 square miles of the West Plains, including the airport.
John Townsley, who served on the state’s Aviation Planning Council, told city leaders that the new zones will protect taxpayers from having huge bills to condemn or buffer development when it’s time to build a third runway.
“The time to mitigate a problem that is foreseeable – and this is foreseeable – is now, because the cost is relatively low,” said Townsley, a Spokane resident and former board member of the Spokane Chapter of the Washington Pilots Association.
Airport officials say the third runway likely won’t be needed for at least 20 years, but point to the headaches experienced by Seattle-Tacoma International Airport as it planned its recently constructed third runway.
“An airport is a big part of what drives the economics of a community,” said Ryan Sheehan, the airport’s director of operations and maintenance. “It’s critically important to prevent incompatible land-uses and encroachment that could limit or restrict the activity of the airport in the future.”
Ambassadors Group’s location is – and was at the time it was built – inside a Spokane County airport crash zone for the airport’s proposed third runway. That county zone prohibits construction of churches, schools, manufactured home parks, motels and several other structures. The building was allowed under county rules and will be grandfathered when the city annexes the land. The new airway zone affecting Ambassadors’ acreage will be stricter and won’t allow a new office building used by more than 40 people an acre.
“The adoption of the proposed alignment and overlay zone significantly impact Ambassadors Group’s ability to grow its business around its new, state-of-the-art headquarters,” Tellessen wrote in a letter submitted to the council. Ambassadors Group schedules and sponsors educational and professional travel groups around the world.
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