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Board sides with county on APZ issue

Island County officials won an important victory in a battle over zoning around Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, but the land-use war may not be won.

In a 2-1 decision, the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board ruled in favor of the county in a challenge to the new accident potential zones, commonly known as APZs. The county won on a legal technicality that its two attorneys, including a high-priced expert, didn’t even argue.

“I am satisfied with the decision because we prevailed and we were confident that we had done our job correctly,” Planning Director Jeff

Tate, who’s on vacation in a warm place, wrote in an email message.

North Whidbey resident Becky Spraitzar challenged the county’s adoption of APZs, arguing that county officials didn’t provide effective notification to all property owners affected by the new ordinance. It limits some of the uses that are allowed on more than 1,000 properties in North Whidbey, as well as preventing subdivision on a handful of large parcels.

The hearings board, which decides if government is complying with the Growth Management Act, found that Spraitzar was citing the wrong law in her arguments.

“Petitioner challenged the content of the notices themselves, a matter that would more properly be the subject of a challenge founded on RCW 36.70A.035,” the decision states.

Spraitzar argued that the county’s notice to the community during the process of adopting the APZs was “incomprehensibly cryptic to the average citizen,” the decision states. In other words, Joe Six-Pack may not understand what an “accident potential zone” means.

Spraitzar’s argument seemed to gain traction with the board during oral arguments, but was derailed by the technicality.

Spraitzar explained that she has 10 days to appeal the decision to the same board, which she plans to do.

“This is not over. Our numbers are growing and our resolve is firm,” she said.

Spraitzar seeks to have the APZ ordinance recalled and for the public process to begin all over again. She’s hopeful about the appeal because one member of the hearings board, Holly Gadbaw, wrote a dissension outlying a possible appeal.

Even if she loses, Spraitzar believes that the election of new commissioners may bring relief. It looks like Helen Price Johnson and Angie Homola have both won the election, ousting Phil Bakke and Mac McDowell, respectively.

“I have a commitment from Angie and Helen Price Johnson to bring it back for public hearings,” Spraitzar said.

In an interview, Price Johnson said she is interested in seeing what the commissioners’ options are in regard to the APZs. She said she would like to talk to officials on the Navy base about the zoning, especially since it’s much more extensive than the military requested.

Tate said the commissioners always have the authority to repeal an ordinance.

While he’s happy about the outcome, Tate said the process has been valuable for the planning department and has instigated changes.

“We have developed new methods for outreach and notice that we will use the next time we go through this kind of process,” he wrote.

“Essentially, we have developed a four tier approach to outreach.”

County officials explain that the purpose of the APZs is to prevent a cataclysmic loss of life in the case of an airplane crash, but also to ward off intrusive development around the Navy base. The zones are in areas off the end of runways that are considered more at risk for a crash.

The county’s APZ rules prohibit churches, schools, day cares, bed and breakfasts and similar uses in the zones. Current uses are grandfathered in and will not be impacted.

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