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APZ showdown

North Whidbey resident Becky Spraitzer argues her appeal before the members of the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board Thursday. She said Island County officials didn
North Whidbey resident Becky Spraitzer argues her appeal before the members of the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board Thursday. She said Island County officials didn't adequately notify the community of a zoning ordinance.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

An appeal of an Island County land-use ordinance may hinge on whether a state board feels that certain legal notices were descriptive enough.

About 40 people crowded into a small courtroom in the county Law and Justice Center Thursday to hear arguments before the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board.

The majority of the folks were there to support North Whidbey resident Becky Spraitzer, who appealed a county ordinance that restricts usage on land within an accident potential zone, or APZ, around the Whidbey Naval Air Station. About a thousand properties are effected.

The most dramatic moments came at the end of the hearing when members of the board grilled the county’s hired gun, land-use attorney Keith Dearborn. He was a little combative, but ended up admitting that the county’s notices didn’t tell people that the ordinance would impact residents’ use of their property.

“We could have done ourselves a better service if we would have specifically listed what uses were restricted,” he said. Still, he argued that the restrictions were minor and the county complied with requirements outlined in state law.

Spraitzer, a legal novice, appeared to do remarkably well against the county’s counsel, Deputy Prosecutor Daniel Mitchell and Dearborn.

“We want to be able to live on our property and make a living on our property, but we aren’t able to do that,” she said.

Spraitzer presented a wide range of arguments. She claimed that the legal notices for public hearings printed in the classified section of the Whidbey News-Times did not meet the “effective notice” standard in the Growth Management Act. The county only sent out notification letters to the six people with properties large enough to be impacted by a restriction on subdivisions.

“Six people getting something in writing or getting a call is not effective public notice, especially with something of this magnitude,” she said.

Mitchell, on the other hand, detailed the 10 notices published for a series of hearings — all open to the public — before the planning commission and the board of county commissioners.

“The county went above and beyond the requirements of the Growth Management Act,” he said, adding that several members of the public submitted public comment.

In the questioning period, hearings board members seemed to agree with the county that it wasn’t required to send out letters to each and every affected property owner, especially since the ordinance wasn’t site specific.

But board member James McNamara focused on whether the notice the county did provide was effective. Board member William Roehl asked whether anything in the notices mentioned that the ordinance would mean additional impacts on people’s property.

Dearborn said there wasn’t.

“That would have been a good thing to provide, but the county did not do that,” he said.

Yet Dearborn emphasized that the residents are aware of the aircraft flying across their property and that accidents have happened. He said that APZs are not a new concept, but have been identified in the county since the 1970s.

Board member Holly Gadbaw questioned whether there’s anything in county code that describes what should be in a notice. Dearborn said he’s not aware of any.

Gadbaw also pointed out that the ordinance was changed late in the process by the county commissioners.

Against the recommendation of the planning commission, the county commissioners added a “racetrack formation” to the accident potential zone, greatly increasing the amount of land in the zone.

An accident potential zone is the land around an airfield where it’s considered aircraft are most likely to crash. Commissioner Mac McDowell has been a big supporter of increasing APZs.

“What the ordinance is truly about is protecting the Navy, not protecting the citizens or people who live here,” Spraitzer said. “It’s about protecting the Navy from encroachment.”

The hearings board is scheduled to have a response on Nov. 11.

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