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Crash zone project stalled

The Oak City Council unanimously approved an emergency, six-month moratorium Tuesday on development within accident potential zones, or APZ, off the end of runways at the Navy base.

Just three weeks ago, several council members criticized Mayor Patty Cohen for proposing such a moratorium. The majority of the council voted against the moratorium once and testily tabled it another time this month.

So what’s changed? The council members received advice from an outside attorney and more complete information from a Navy official. The APZ map from the Navy was adopted by the city. And the council undoubtedly felt political pressure from Navy boosters.

“You just don’t build underneath a departure corridor or take-off corridor,” retired Rear Admiral Jim Foxgrover said during his lengthy testimony. He was one of a half-dozen audience members who urged the council to pass the moratorium Tuesday night. Foxgrover thanked the council for inviting him, though it’s clear that the council as a body didn’t invite anyone to the meeting.

The City Council will hold a public hearing on the moratorium 7 p.m., Dec. 6 to decide whether to continue it for a full six months.

The ordinance on the moratorium directs the development services department to review the issues and come up with recommended regulations. City Attorney Phil Bleyhl even suggested that the city hire additional staff to help with the work, but the council didn’t follow his advice.

“It’s important to do a good job,” he said.

The process of creating new zoning for the APZ area might also be controversial. The Navy’s own recommendations for development regulation allows for a 165,000-square-foot building on Boyer’s property, or 50 people per acre in APZ-2. Many of the people in favor of the moratorium, including County Commissioner Mac McDowell, said the city should follow the Navy’s APZ map, but not follow the Navy’s corresponding recommendations for development regulations.

In explaining her change of heart on the moratorium Tuesday, Councilwoman Sue Karahalios said it was legally important to have the APZ map go through the comprehensive plan task force and the planning commission before a moratorium was adopted. The City Council adopted the map that night.

“I’m in a position where I can take the litigation risk I believe there is,” she said.

Councilman Eric Gerber pointed out that the APZ map was the first such map the Navy ever gave to the city. He said it was an important point that the council wasn’t aware of previously.

“We actually got factual information for the first time,” Gerber said after the meeting.

The moratorium affects about 60 acres of land, owned by three different people, in the APZ north of the city. The land is all zoned C-4 highway service commercial. There’s a vacant 13-acre parcel owned by hotelier Joel Douglas, Westgate Homes and RV Center and the so-called Boyer property.

Bellevue-area developer Nat Franklin plans to build a 165,000-square-foot shopping pavilion on the 17-acre property owned by retired car dealer Don Boyer. The moratorium prevents Franklin from making application to build until the moratorium is lifted.

City officials have two main concerns about development in the APZ: encroachment and safety. The recent round of Base Realignment and Closures showed that limiting development near air bases in essential to keep bases open. Also, it may not be wise for large number of people to be shopping or dining in an area where it’s statistically more likely for a plane to crash.

However, a Navy official pointed out that even the busiest civilian airports don’t limit development in accident potential zones.

Several people at the meeting pointed out that the moratorium doesn’t mean development will never occur on the Boyer land. The city’s planning department, and ultimately the council members, will have to decide what sort of development is appropriate in the area.

“You don’t want to wipe out all the uses of the property,” Bleyhl said. “That just doesn’t seem appropriate.”

Contrary to what Foxgrover said, the community planning liaison for the Navy base said it’s OK to build some types of development in APZ zones. “We have no intention to limit compatible development,” Rich Melaas said.

“It’s a compatible use zone,” Councilman Richard Davis said. “It’s not a no-use zone.”

The meeting Tuesday began with a 75 minute workshop on the proposed moratorium. The council began the workshop by going into an closed-door executive session for a little over half an hour. They had a conference call with an attorney from the city’s insurance provider to talk about liability issues connected to the proposed moratorium.

Mayor Patty Cohen excused herself from some of the discussions. She said she didn’t have a legal conflict of interest but there was an “appearance of fairness” concern. Her family owns land near the Boyer property.

Melaas addressed the council at length, explaining the process by which the Navy creates APZs, which are part of the overall Air Installation Compatible Use Zones. He said the Navy erred by not presenting the city with an APZ map in the past.

“The Navy didn’t get its bureaucratic studies in order,” he said.

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