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Navy airplane accident zone back on Island County agenda

The controversial issue of “accident potential zones” is landing back on Island County’s agenda.

Representatives from the Island County planning department and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station will be at a meeting concerning the county’s APZ at 6 p.m. Wednesday, March 7 at the conference room of the Oak Harbor Library.

The county and Navy officials will be available to answer questions and listen to comments, but there will be no formal presentations or slide shows.

North Whidbey resident Becky Spraitzer and several of her neighbors have been pushing county officials for years to amend the APZ restrictions. The APZ ordinance creates an overlay zone that limits encroachment on the Navy base by restricting development in the accident potential zone, which is a racetrack-shaped area around the base where aircraft take off and circle.

Former Commissioner Mac McDowell spearheaded the ordinance, which greatly increased even the Navy’s recommendation for the size of the zone. He explained at the time that aircraft accidents occur most commonly at take off and landing, so limiting densities in these areas would save lives.

For property within an APZ zone, the ordinance sets restrictions on subdivisions and on uses, specifically those that would result in a number of people congregating at one spot. Uses that are restricted in APZ1, the area with the highest risk, include daycare facilities, schools, veterinary clinics, bed and breakfast facilities, and community gathering places like churches.

Many North Whidbey residents who live within the zone were upset about the restrictions on their property. Spraitzer unsuccessfully challenged the ordinance before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

Spraitzer said her goal is to get the issue on the county planning docket this year. She said small but important changes can be made to the ordinance without opening up the entire comprehensive plan process, but the planning department is somewhat resistant to the idea.

“Everyone in the planning department is new to this,” she said. “They don’t have a clue what this is about.”

Navy officials, she said, have been more open to the idea of change.

Spraitzer said many members of the public, including some planning department staff, mistakenly think the issue is about aircraft noise.

“It’s not about noise. It’s about encroachment,” she said.

 

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