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Navy accident zone reopening sought

A North Whidbey resident wants Island County to revisit a controversial measure that limited land use around Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Becky Spraitzar asked county commissioners at their regular meeting Monday morning to rescind the accident potential zones, or APZs, and restart the process with new rounds of public hearings.

Spraitzar argued that a lack of public transparency in the process prior to adoption means the ordinance violates the constitutional rights of affected property owners.

“It opens us up for lawsuits,” she said, “and it’s my worry that will happen if we don’t open this up for public comment.”

Former Commissioner Mac McDowell spearheaded the APZ ordinance, which he said was to prevent the cataclysmic loss of life in the case of an airplane crash and to ward off intrusive development around Whidbey Island Naval Air Station. APZs are areas off the end of runways that are considered more at risk for a crash, though McDowell expanded the zones to a giant racetrack pattern below circling airplanes.

The ordinance limits some of the conditional uses allowed on more than 1,000 North Whidbey properties, as well as preventing subdivision on a handful of large parcels.

If the commissioners decide to tinker with the ordinance, expect McDowell to protest loudly. In an interview with the News-Times earlier this year, the former commissioner said he would stay out of county politics unless the new leaders try to change the APZs.

It’s something he’s very proud of and he’ll fight to prevent changes, he said.

After it was adopted, Spraitzar rallied many of the affected property owners in protest. She challenged the ordinance with the Western Washington Growth Hearings Board, arguing that the county’s notice to the public was “incomprehensibly cryptic to the average citizen” since average people don’t know what an APZ is, let alone how it may impact them.

The board sided with the county in a 2-1 decision, citing a legal technicality.

But then the composition of the board of county commissioners shifted. Republican commissioners McDowell and Phil Bakke, the former planning director, were out. Democrats Angie Homola and Helen Price Johnson won the election. During the campaigns, they seemed open to the idea of revising the APZ issue.

Monday, Spraitzar invited the commissioners to meet with her group for discussions. But Commissioner John Dean, who voted in favor of the ordinance, said they would have an opportunity to talk at a special forum with the commissioners at 6 p.m., Feb. 18 at the Heller Road Fire Station. Also, he said the board will discuss it during an upcoming retreat.

Homola said she spoke with Capt. Gerral David, commanding officer of the base, and he’s willing to discuss the issue further.

The commissioners and Planning Director Jeff Tate talked early this year about possibly revisiting the ordinance. He presented them with a list of projects the department could take on this year and the APZ ordinance was included. The board and planning commission will hold a joint meeting Feb. 27 to finalize the work plan.

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 are not be impacted.

Speak your piece

How do you feel about the county’s accident potential zone ordinance? Are there other county issues on your mind?

Tell the commissioners in person during the first in a series of public forums on Wednesday, Feb. 18, at 6 p.m. at Heller Road Fire Station, 2720 Heller Road. Islanders from throughout the county are welcome to attend. Other such forums will be held this year on South Whidbey, Coupeville, and Camano Island.

Commissioner Helen Price Johnson representing District 1 (South and Central Whidbey), Commissioner Angie Homola representing District 2 (Oak Harbor), and Commissioner John Dean from District 3 (North Whidbey and Camano Island) decided to host the forums to solicit ideas and hear general concerns about local communities.

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