Spokane County commissioners on Tuesday were accused of trying to take away private property rights in a series of proposed land-use regulations intended to protect Fairchild Air Force Base from encroachment.
Landowners said the new regulations would prevent them from obtaining zone changes to develop their property, even though their holdings are well outside of the current urban growth boundary.
Commissioners explained that the zoning in unincorporated areas around Fairchild is largely rural and not eligible for more intense residential development under existing state growth law.
“What is prohibited is the possibility of changing our zoning,” said Patricia Abregan, a land owner near Fairchild.
She accused commissioners of reneging on earlier commitments to protect private property rights.
Commissioner Al French said that Abregan was asking for the right to speculate, and that there is nothing in state law “to protect the speculative interest in land.”
Another property owner told the commissioners, “All I can see is decreased values.”
He scolded the commissioners, “You guys ought to hang your head in shame.”
The proposed land-use plan, developed over the past several years with funding from the U.S. Department of Defense, seeks to limit residential development around Fairchild and maintain low densities in places that are suitable for commercial or industrial development.
Airway Heights, Spokane and Medical Lake are considering similar proposals.
The commissioners said the threat of encroachment could be a significant factor in each of the next two rounds of nationwide base closure studies, and that Fairchild is too important of an economic asset to risk.
The proposal creates a special military influence area in the vicinity of jet noise exceeding 65 decibels and higher.
Land owners argued that having property inside that designated zone is damaging to values, and could reduce the ability to obtain loans.
One farmer said his 300 acres is largely his retirement savings, and was hoping to sell off parcels. He was told he could sell 10-acre tracts for a single home under current zoning, and the new encroachment standards would not change that.
The areas affected by jet noise would fall under a notice requirement to renters and potential purchasers.
New buildings would have to be sound-proofed and the building permit for construction would be contingent on owners granting “avigation” easements acknowledging Fairchild flights.
The regulations also prevent high-occupancy uses, including those with vulnerable populations. Crash and accident potential zones near the runways have greater restrictions. Building heights are limited near runways.
Lighting is controlled to point downward and standing water or ponds are not permitted because they attract birds, which are a hazard to aircraft.
Commissioners said they are going to make a decision on the proposal in the next few weeks.
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