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Commissioners delay APZ decision

The Board of County Commissioners will wait until November to decide on a proposed ordinance that will preclude a small group of property owners with land in Whidbey Island Naval Air Station’s “accident potential zone” from subdividing.

An August public hearing to discuss the proposed county code amendment was continued Monday at a regular commissioners meeting. The previous hearing generated negative feedback from residents in the area.

Nine parcels of land were identified as residing in APZ1, the designated area comprised of a mix of private and Navy-owned properties. The properties are the most heavily affected by the accident zone.

Six of the properties are currently undeveloped and the remaining three have residences. A majority of each parcel of land falls in the accident potential zone and is being used as farmland. If the commissioners amend the code, the landowners will not be able to subdivide their properties.

Letters were sent to the landowners to explain the zoning restrictions. Resident Bonnie Newkirk said Monday that she, and other people with whom she spoke, never received notice.

One earlier concern was that the restrictions would affect agriculture. Planning Director Jeff Tate said that clarification is needed, but the intent of the ordinance is to allow agriculture to continue.

“We’re not trying to preclude any of those rights,” he said, adding that “existing uses” would be protected by a separate section of the county code.

Newkirk, who uses her property partly for “u-picking,” was concerned the code would not allow the practice to continue. Commissioner Mac McDowell assured her that the business was not in jeopardy.

Rebecca Spraitzar, also affected by the proposed ordinance, 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. With the imminent code amendment, she has been scrambling to get a short plat, a subdivision of four or fewer lots.

“I don’t have time to get a short plat, even by December,” she told the commissioners.

Newkirk was similarly concerned with the limited timeframe allowed to get a short plat.

“We need more time to cover this,” she said.

Commissioner Phil Bakke, the former planning director, told Newkirk that methods exist to expedite the process.

As compensation for the restriction, a new category for the public benefit rating system was created. 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 taxpayers negligible. The county collects the same amount of money.

Part of the APZ lies in the Oak Harbor’s Urban Growth Area, triggering an interlocal agreement between the county and city.

“That requires both the city and county to work together when making county amendments in those areas,” Tate said. “We recommend the board withhold a decision until we have gone through the process with the city of Oak Harbor.”

Staff from both planning departments met recently and discussed the proposed amendments.

The commissioners granted the planning department eight weeks to put everything together. Planning personnel will draft the proposal and forward it to the city for consideration. The public hearing will continue at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 26.

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