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County eyes downzoning land near base

Nine parcels of land located close to Whidbey Island Naval Air Station in the “aircraft accident potential zone” will be prevented from subdividing if the county commissioners approve a code amendment.

A public hearing will be held Monday, Aug. 27 at 2:30 p.m. in the commissioners’ hearing room to consider the amendment.

“It’s an important change, but the change really only affects those property owners,” said Commissioner Mac McDowell.

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

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 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 taxpayers negligible. The county collects the same amount of money.

“Certain people, as they go through a process, can get their taxes reduced,” said McDowell. “We’re going to single out these parcels and it makes sense to let them participate in a new category of this system. Their property will have less potential than it did the day before we did this.”

The process will become part of the county code and a new zoning ordinance once it is passed by the commissioners. Letters have been sent to the group of landowners.

“Under the current code, they could have subdivided,” McDowell said. “Once we pass this, they will not be able to make this subdivision. Since this is a little unusual, but it is important to this small group of owners, we felt it was worthwhile to be able to look at the Public Benefit Rating System.”

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. McDowell said most of the property is being used for farmland.

“That’s almost ideal for the APZ,” he said.

The Boyer property, recently purchased in a rather complex deal by the county, city of Oak Harbor and the Navy for $2.2 million, was an entirely different situation.

“Boyer was prime commercial property and had a much higher density of use,” McDowell said of the property also located in APZ1.

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

“We don’t know if any of the owners even planned to subdivide,” McDowell said. “It could just be a win for them.”

On the undeveloped properties, the owners can still build a residence assuming water and sewer are available.

“We’re not taking away that use,” the commissioner said.

Dave and Shirley Burbank’s expansive home resides on one of the properties that lies one-mile from the end of the runway in the APZ. In their case, the property is used for agricultural purposes and the couple already enjoys a tax break.

“It’s not a huge thing for me,” Dave Burbank said. “We probably couldn’t have developed it anyway. If that wasn’t the case, I don’t think I would be very happy. I suppose we’ll get more answers at the meeting.”

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