Noise zone landowners balk at county changes

The county’s proposed subdivision preclusion for a handful of property owners with land in the Navy’s “aircraft accident potential zone” generated negative feedback Monday afternoon.

Nine parcels of land located close to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in the accident zone will be prevented from subdividing if the Board of Island County Commissioners approves a code amendment. Approximately 20 people attended Monday’s public hearing.

Jeff Tate, representing Island County Planning and Community Development, explained that with the Navy’s transition from the EA-6B Prowler to the EA-18G Growler, the flight pattern will be altered, affecting the nine properties in the accident zone. Letters were sent to the land owners to explain the zoning restrictions.

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. The nine properties are the most heavily affected by the accident zone, Tate said.

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.

The tax break may not be enough incentive to dissuade the property owners from seeking legal counsel.

Longtime resident Vivian Anderson said her attorney told her that she should have been notified by certified mail of the proposed restrictions. Resident Bonnie Newkirk agreed with Anderson that earlier notice should have been made.

Newkirk further implored the commissioners to postpone making a ruling on the amendment to give her time to speak with a lawyer.

“My total retirement comes from that property,” she said. “I need to be able to use it.”

The group of properties, located off the northeast corner of the base, all fall in APZ1 off the extension of the runway.

Newkirk said her understanding of the proposed amendment placed restrictions on what could be grown on her property. She feared that the restrictions would bar u-pickers from harvesting her blueberries.

Tate said he was not aware of any agricultural rules. Instead, the amendment is intended to only affect the intensity of land use. For example, a property owner could still erect a bed and breakfast, but the size of the B&B would be regulated.

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.

Ron Christensen described an idyllic area on Frostad Road decades ago where neighbors have historically farmed and raised livestock. One could always see the base in the distance.

“It was a short strip in those days,” he said.

The runway grew proportionately with the jet noise. Property owners watched the military develop the land around their properties. Christensen said he has never grown used to the noise and advocated for some kind of compensation from the federal government.

“We never brought this on ourselves,” he said. “I think there should be compensation for people in those zones.”

The value of the properties have been halved, he added. If there’s no direct compensation, the tax break will not in itself suffice.

“I think you should eliminate the taxes altogether,” he said.

Tate said at the beginning of the meeting that the public hearing would be continued to allow the county to correspond with the city of Oak Harbor and ensure the recommended amendments are in line with the interlocal agreement.

Public input will continue to be accepted and the public hearing will recommence Monday, Oct. 1 at 10:30 a.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room.

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