City settles APZ issue

The city of Oak Harbor now has tighter restrictions aimed at preventing encroachment or intrusive development around Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Last week, the City Council unanimously passed an ordinance that restricts land use on property within “accident potential zones” off the end of a runway at the Navy base, as well as an adjacent buffer zone.

Mayor Patty Cohen said she recently returned from Washington, D.C., where she shared the city’s actions to prevent base encroachment with officials from other military communities, as well as the Pentagon. She said they were impressed.

“They had never heard of anything like this before,” she said. “This was a first.”

Cohen led the way in development of the new zoning restriction after the Navy released a map last fall that shows about 60 acres on the north end of the city falls within accident potential zones, or APZs, which are areas where plane accidents are more likely to occur.

Some officials were alarmed that the 2005 round of Base Realignment and Closures showed that encroachment is a key concern for the federal government in deciding which bases to close.

Compensation is requested

Retired car dealership owner Don Boyer is the trustee for 17 acres within the new APZ. After he agreed to sell the land to a developer, the City Council passed a moratorium on development within APZs.

Boyer’s attorney, C. Thomas Moser of Mount Vernon, wrote a letter to the planning commission Feb. 24 stating that his client strongly opposes any restrictions that exceed those established by the Navy.

“If the City’s actions results in a diminution of the value of the above property,” he wrote, “my client will look to the City of Oak Harbor for compensation.”

The restrictions are, indeed, more conservative than the military’s Air Installation Compatible Use Zone guidelines, but they have the approval of the Navy. City Development Services Director Steve Powers said Capt. Syd Abernethy wrote a letter in support of the planning commission recommendations.

It’s unclear whether the new restrictions will affect the value of the land. The city is having the Boyer property appraised. Cohen wants to obtain county, state and federal government funds to purchase the 17 acres and plant it with trees.

Last week, City Council members followed the planning commission recommendations to amend city code. The change affects 60 acres that fall within the accident potential zone within the city, plus a swath of land within a third accident potential “buffer” zone southwest and parallel to the APZs.

Under the amendments, there are now three accident potential and three noise subdistricts within the aviation overlay zone. An overlay zone adds land-use restrictions on top of the underlying zoning.

Each subdistrict has somewhat different restrictions on the maximum number of people per acre and the allowed uses. The purpose is to restrict the number of people that congregate in an area with a greater risk of being the site of a Navy plane crash.

A maximum of 25 people per acre are allowed in accident potential subdistrict 1, which is the area with the greatest risk. A maximum 30 people per acre are allowed in subdistrict 2; no more than 50 people per acre are allowed in subdistrict 3.

Based on the maximum densities, planners created a list of permitted land uses in each accident subdistrict. Car sales, for example, is allowed in all the accident potential subdistricts. But drive-in banks are only allowed in subdistricts 2 and 3.

In addition, development in an accident potential subdistrict must conform to floor-to-area ratio restrictions. Each permitted land use has a floor area ratio, which restricts the gross floor area of buildings according to the amount of land they sit on.

New park now found illegal

Powers told the council that the creation of a third noise subdistrict will affect development of a regional park at the city’s closed landfill site. The northern portion of the park site is located within the new subdistrict. The city has long planned to build a large park near the municipal works facility once the landfill stops releasing methane gas.

“Outdoor sports facilities and parks are not considered compatible uses within this subdistrict,” Powers said. The council members did not question him about the issue.

In addition, the council adopted both additions and subtractions to the list of permitted uses in the accident potential subdistricts. The changes eliminate scientific instrument manufacturing, restaurants, landfills, rapid transit terminals, amateur radio towers, and radio and TV broadcasting stations as permitted uses in accident potential subdistricts.

On the other hand, the changes allow car washes, coffee kiosks, contractor offices, equipment rental, garden supply stores, and plant nurseries in the accident zones.

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