Neighbors protest Navy crash zone ordinance

A growing cadre of incensed landowners taking their collective frustration to the grass has been camped out on the corner of Highway 20 and Frostad Road protesting the Navy’s expanded “accident potential zone” and a newly-passed county ordinance that restricts some land uses within higher risk areas.

A number of the residents who will be most affected by the ordinance have been among the protesters garnering waves from passing vehicles quickly reading the pithy, large white sign.

“We were out there waving for two hours Sunday,” said Rebecca Spraitzar, who owns two parcels of land, one of which is located entirely within APZ1. “We got three phone calls from people who were not aware of the zoning and lots of honks and waves.”

Another sign at Dugualla Bay Farms sends the same anti-APZ message. And more signs will follow, she added.

The Board of Island County Commissioners put their unanimous stamp of approval on the draft ordinance Monday, despite the continued, vehement disapproval of the vocal group of residents.

Planning Director Jeff Tate told the board at last Wednesday’s staff session that the document was ready after undergoing exhaustive scrutiny by the county and city of Oak Harbor.

The Navy’s impending transition from the EA-6B Prowler to the EA-18G Growler necessitated the flight pattern alteration. The county was then obligated to address zoning issues that grew out of the changes.

Accident potential zones are areas off the end of Navy runways where aircraft crashes are most likely to occur.

The group of properties, located off the northeast corner of the base, all fall in APZ1 off the extension of the runway. Oak Harbor city staff were unhappy with the initial draft the county forwarded. The city is a stakeholder because part of the APZ lies in the Oak Harbor’s urban growth area, which triggered an interlocal agreement with the county. County planners amended the document slightly but the draft from last week was not substantively different from the ordinance the board approved.

“Oak Harbor still has concerns that when you run an APZ across an urban growth area, it will restrict the level of intensity or density,” Tate said Monday.

Commissioner Mac McDowell said the city’s concerns were a “non-issue.”

“Intensity won’t be an issue,” he said. “I’m ready to adopt this.”

Letters were sent to the landowners to explain the zoning restrictions. Spraitzar owns 11 acres in the area with two residences. Her intention for decades has been to give one residence to each of her two sons. She said owners with less than 10 acres were not notified of the changes.

“I got notification on the 11 acres, but not on the five-and-a-half,” the property owner said last week.

Spraitzar spoke on behalf of fellow irate residents at Monday’s public hearing. After beseeching the commissioners to hold meetings in the evenings to accommodate work schedules, she laid out her concerns before the board rendered a decision on the ordinance.

“It’s giving (the Navy) land,” she said. “You’re taking away the use of my property except to live on, which I do. ... If this goes through, we need to be compensated.

“I’m not against the Navy, but it would be different if they were a considerate neighbor. They haven’t been.”

A new category under the Public Benefit Rating System will address the handful of properties in APZ1 — the designated area comprised of a mix of private and Navy-owned properties, that will be unable to subdivide. The nine properties are the most heavily affected by the APZ, said Anthony Boscolo, Island County Planning’s long range planner.

The rating system provides a tax break for residents whose property uses are restricted. The taxes are reduced, shifted from the landowner and spread over the whole of the county, making the overall increase for individual taxpayers negligible. The county collects the same amount of money.

The nine properties could have been subdivided as 10-acre parcels before, but the amendment removes that right, instead compensating the owners through tax reductions.

“That isn’t enough,” Spraitzar said.

Six of the properties are currently undeveloped and the remaining three have residences, Boscolo said. A majority of each parcel of land falls in the accident potential zone. Most of the property is being used as farmland.

Spraitzar echoed the city’s initial misgivings. In terms of importance, she said the list of what will not be allowed under the ordinance trumps the existing list of acceptable land uses. The restricted uses in APZ1 range from day care nurseries and schools, to veterinary clinics, to bed and breakfast facilities, to first responder centers and community gathering places like churches.

“There’s a lot of discomfort about this out there,” she said. “I’m not against development, but I am against removing my rights.”

Commissioner Phil Bakke said the restrictions are necessary. The former planning director added that the ordinance represents “classic land use protection for, in this case, a military installation.” With NAS Whidbey accounting for 68 percent of the total employment in Island County, he said the economic ties are undeniable and until commercial diversification occurs, the base is a life force.

Commissioner John Dean, although sympathetic to the property owners, was also in favor of the ordinance.

“This is something that we can’t turn away from,” he said.

Dean also said he would be willing to hold an informational meeting for the public and landowners.

Spraitzar, who was brought to Whidbey Island as a “Navy brat” when she was in second grade, recommended the Navy purchase at fair market value the privately-owned properties located within the APZ.

“If this goes through, we need to be adequately compensated,” she said.

McDowell said the Navy budgets money annually, specifically for buying up encroachments. He is currently working with three owners of property on the extension of the Navy runway adjacent to the Boyer commercial property which was publicly purchased after a similar downzone. The commissioner said, without knowing the specifics of Spraitzar’s land, he would be willing to meet with her and ultimately take her case to Navy officials.

“I’d be glad to speak to them on your behalf,” he said, adding that the Navy does not buy development rights for all properties located in an APZ.

Tate was confident the revised draft adequately addresses the city’s primary concerns.

“I don’t pretend to say that all issues are addressed,” he clarified.

The planning director told the commissioners last week a section was added to the draft that allows the landowner a conditional use permit to submit an application appealing regulations in the Navy’s Air Installation Compatible Use Zone, the program instituted by the Department of Defense to address the problem of land development surrounding military air installations.

“We would never recommend approval of the ordinance if it was not consistent with the AICUZ,” Tate said.

Spraitzar already has her appeal form and a small but growing grass roots protestation effort.

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