Accident zone moratorium fails

Oak Harbor Council members concerned about possible litigation and a chilling effect on economic growth defeated a proposed moratorium on development within accident potential zones.

The vote means Bellevue developer Nat Franklin can move forward with plans to build a 165,000-square-foot shopping pavilion on a 17-acre parcel of land. The property falls within an accident potential zone at the end of a Navy runway, which suggests there’s an increased risk of a plane crash there.

But still, the future of the project is far from certain.

The city is in the process of incorporating the Navy’s new accident potential zone map into the Comprehensive Plan and zoning regulation. Nobody yet has any ideas what the new regulations may look like, but changes could affect Franklin’s plans if he doesn’t submit his application quickly enough.

Also, it may fall to the city’s development services department to decide if Franklin’s plans for apparel stores and restaurants conform to C-4 commercial zoning.

Council members seemed genuinely stumped over how best to proceed. They deliberated at length Tuesday night, even though the matter was not advertised on the agenda.

Council members made motion after motion, in one case making a motion to amend an amendment. They even discussed amending an amendment to an amendment. Some changed their views after a 20-minute executive session. Mayor Patty Cohen hurried back and forth from the meeting because of a conflict of interest.

Island County Commissioner Mac McDowell and Oak Harbor Chamber Director Priscilla Heistad both addressed the council, offering opposing advice.

McDowell strongly urged them to pass a moratorium on development to buy more time.

“I’m only saying we need time to study the issue,” he said. “In no way does it imply that we know the answer.”

Heistad said moratoriums on development send a negative message to the business community.

“Proceed very carefully in using words like moratorium,” she said.

The main problem is that the $2.3 million property, owned by retired car dealer Don Boyer, falls within the “accident potential zone” map released by Whidbey Island Naval Air Station officials

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