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January 26, 2015 Council and Airport Public Hearing Report
"This is an Active Airport; You do not Want to Attract Children" - Carter Timmerman, WSDOT

                                                                                                                                                       (photo by Bob Walter - February 2015)

   This proposed development to build about 20 residential houses on Swanson Field  Eatonville's airport has been wished-for by developers, discussed and argued against by various experts and groups since 2006. The original developer, Jerry Nybo, dropped the project over financial issues and it stayed under the radar for years.    
When the development was brought up again last year by developer Dan Simons the drama was reignited. More public hearings, more comments and more letters against the development began again.
With a checkered history for years the project is now scheduled to be voted for, or against, at the February 23 council meeting.
For more information see
May 2014 Public Hearing Here - letter from WSDOT and more Here. Also see  "..an Ill-conceived plan" guest editorial Aviator Heights 2006 Here.

Brief Council Meeting, Lengthy Public Hearing Regarding Airport Proposed Residential Development

     by Dixie A. Walter
     February 7, 2015

     All members were present. The agenda and consent agenda were both passed unanimously.

     Interim Police Chief Jim Heishman reported that the state has installed the new, lower speed limit signs along Highway 161 at the north and south approaches to the town. He added that since old habits are hard to break, the town will give drivers a chance to get used to the new speed limits before strict enforcement of the lower limit is applied. Mayor Mike Schaub said he was happy to see the new signs were made more noticeable with flagging.

     Interim Fire Chief Bob Vellias introduced three new EMTs who have completed the application process, after three former Eatonville EMTs accepted positions at larger departments in the region. He asked them to give a little of their background. Chris Johnson grew up in Bonney Lake and has worked as an EMT in both private venues and for Rural Metro and District 14 in Pierce County.

     Alan Rivas graduated from paramedic school in Los Angeles, worked in the same private venues as Johnson, and after moving to Washington three years ago, also works for Rural Metro out of Tacoma. Rivas and Johnson run their own business in teaching CPR and advanced cardiac care. Corey Kneeshaw, an Eatonville native, graduated in 2007, attended EMT school and fire recruit academy, and since then has been a volunteer firefighter at South Pierce.

     Councilmember Abby Gribi reported on a Finance Committee meeting. Revenues for 2014 were a little higher than projected due to conservative projections. The committee is looking at objectives for this year, including ways to build some reserve funds.

     Mayor Schaub reported that Rodknockers classic car club donated a check for $500 to the Eatonville Family Agency’s Backpack Program. The new speed limit signs are up at each end of town. The first 30 days are being used by EPD as an education period to give drivers a chance to get used to complying with the slower speed limit. The Pierce County Regional Council general assembly will be on February 19, to which all mayors and council members in the county are invited each year. He and Councilmember Gribi attended last year.

     He concluded by saying he has seen a large number of people enjoying the new trail system. A new Sanikan has been added beyond the new trailhead, just before the first bridge.

Public Hearing on Request for Aviator Heights
 Plat Modification at Town Airport...

      In unfinished business, a public hearing on the request for a plat modification on Aviator Heights preliminary plat was opened to hear testimony concerning the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) review. Council were reminded by town attorney Greg Jacoby that back in May, when the first public hearing on this issue was convened, he reviewed with them the appearance of fairness doctrine, and he repeated the questions he posed to them at that time about financial interest, or ex parte contacts, or any reason why they couldn’t make a fair and impartial decision, and he wanted to confirm that nothing has changed since the May discussions. All council members confirmed this.

     The town planning staff summarized what has taken place since the May 2014 hearing. At the conclusion of that hearing, the applicant had requested the town council continue its deliberations until after the applicant had time to submit materials to the FAA for their review and determinations. The applicant received that FAA report, and was ready to speak to the issues it brought up.

     All speakers were sworn in by Jacoby. Sean Comfort, engineer with AHBL Inc., speaking for the applicant Pacific Northwest Development and Land Company, LLC, reviewed the process. He said there were about 144 different applications submitted to the FAA, using the agency’s Form 7460-1. He said field survey data was used in determining the elevation points for each proposed structure, fence point or gate. If the construction is approved, then after construction is completed they will submit Form 7460-2 to the FAA, confirming what has been constructed.

     Comfort then summarized the proposed changes in the application resulting from the FAA review. Home Lots 1 and 2 at the south end of the plat were deemed hazardous by FAA, and have been eliminated from the project. The proposed development’s entry gate near the southwest corner of Lot 23, and a fence extending west from that gate to a point behind the existing hangars, then turning north the length of the plat, was deemed non-hazardous.

     Lots 22 and 23, within the runway approach airspace, at the south end of the plat but closer to Weyerhaeuser Road, would have one-story rambler style homes, not exceeding 18 feet in height. Lots 3 through 21 were deemed non-hazardous and could have homes up to 28 feet in height. A proposed commercial building in the southwest corner of the plat, 45 by 200 feet and 14 to 16 feet in height, was deemed to be non-hazardous.

     Of the row of 50 proposed “hangars” in Tract C, to be constructed in groups of three so they can be used as actual hangars, Hangar 1 at the south end was deemed hazardous and was eliminated, while proposed hangars 2 through 50 remain.

     Comfort then addressed the driveway or taxiway in front of those hangars, saying that since a question was raised at a study session about how the FAA would look at that driveway or taxiway, he contacted Dan Shoemaker of FAA about it. According to Comfort, Shoemaker, “responded, in essence, by essentially saying in his opinion there is no difference in a taxiway versus a driveway for those hangars, in terms of the 7460-1 application process.”

     Comfort explained that different divisions within FAA may evaluate cases like this, but that Shoemaker said his office evaluated the taxiway/driveway in this particular case. “In this case, whether it’s a taxiway or driveway to serve those hangars, does not make a difference in terms of how the intrusion into the airspace is calculated. He essentially only looks at the potential intrusion into the airspace.”

    Councilmember Brenden Pierce asked Comfort if he had that determination in writing. Comfort said he did, and gave Pierce a copy.

    Comfort next pointed to sections of proposed fencing and a security gate on the map that were deemed hazardous and were eliminated. The fencing would have been located along the west side of the proposed hangars, extended across the end of the runway and around three sides of the stormwater vault.

    Bollards (short vertical posts) proposed for each end of the taxiway/driveway, to be equipped with a nighttime laser for security purposes, would alert a private security guard. The bollard at the south end would be lowered to three feet in height, with the one at the north end six feet in height, and both being designed as breakaway-type.

Uses for Proposed 49 Hangers/Shops Questioned

    Councilmember Bob Walter asked what types of uses are proposed for the 49 hangars/shops. Comfort explained they would be built in series of three to allow hangars for airplanes, and the others would be shops or available for any use allowed by the zoning in the aerospace district.

    Town Attorney Jacoby asked Comfort to explain the nine proposed plat modifications previously documented, and whether any of those have changed. Comfort introduced Lisa Klein, land planner with AHBL, to answer. She referred to a memorandum submitted to council on Thursday, and provided a handout to council summarizing changes to the project, how it has progressed since 2007, what was asked for last May, and where we are today.

    Klein explained that several conditions of approval from 2007 have not been changed, then discussed those which have changed. The first involved improvements to Weyerhaeuser Road. Proceeding south from adjacent to Lot 21; they would extend to the plat entrance road, instead of to Center Street East.

   The next change from 2007 involved the private road within the development, striking the term “taxiway,” since their proposal would not allow airplanes on the private residential roadway. This change also inserted language allowing for the private gate into the development.

    The next condition of approval that changed from 2007 involved the fencing. It was changed in the May 12, 2014 staff report from wooden to black vinyl cyclone, and as a result of the FAA review process, was revised again. Portions of the fencing around Tracts B and C were found to be hazardous, as mentioned earlier in Sean Comfort’s summary, so the wording was changed to, “…fencing as approved by the FAA…

    Continuing, Klein said another change from 2007 was the addition of wording on the face of the plat, about the properties being, “…adjacent to and within close proximity and flight paths of Swanson Field…Such activities may include, but are not limited to, noise, vibration, chemical odors, hours of operation, low overhead flights, and other associated activities.

    Current and future property owners are also notified that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) establishes standards and notification requirements for potential height hazards that may be caused by structures, buildings, trees, and other objects affecting navigable air space through 14 CFR Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR) Part 77, Civil Aviation Imaginary Surfaces. Any questions on establishing height hazards or obstructions should be directed to the FAA.”

    The next change from 2007 involved the taxiway paving and construction, and the addition of the term, “multi-use” preceding the term, “hangars” (proposed in Tract C, between the development and the runway), since these proposed buildings could also be used for other purposes as allowed in the town code. Another change already proposed last May was language added with respect to, “Tracts A, B and C,” stating, “It is understood that the uses in Tract C will not be limited to airplane hangars and could include other uses of a size and number as allowed by the EMC (Eatonville Municipal Code).”

    Condition 21, as proposed last May, involves the installation of signage prohibiting the use of the private road by airplanes. This change reflects the developer’s intent to change the road into the development from an airplane taxiway to a private road, and thus, from an aviation-related residential development to a single family residential development.

    A new Condition 22, requested in May, has been deleted. It had involved installation of a security gate at the entrance to Tract B, which Klein described as a commercial area, but has been struck due to the FAA determination of hazard. Another new condition requested in May adds the following wording regarding recreational use: “The recreational improvements to Tract D shall include, but not be limited to, aviation-related toys and interpretive signage describing the history of Swanson Airport and general information related to different types of planes, how planes fly, and other aviation matters of general interest.” This concluded Klein’s review of the proposed changes.

  Safety Concerns in FAA Report Raised During Public Testimony by WSDOT...

     Mayor Schaub then called for the public testimony. Carter Timmerman, aviation planner with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), said, “In the past we’ve expressed concern regarding this project, and we still recommend denial of the proposed plat modifications…I’ll start with the 7460 process that the FAA has completed. First, it’s a process designed to protect airspace. It’s not a process designed to protect airports, or to provide compatibility between uses.

    "If you look at the FAA 7460 reports from this project, I think you’ll find some interesting facts there that we haven’t discussed yet tonight.

    “One of the facts is, the airport is challenging, operationally, to approach and depart from. That was actually concurred with by the FAA during their 7460 process. The FAA even concurred with WSDOT’s concerns regarding potential risk to life and property…(emphasis added)

    "I’ll read right from [their report]: ‘In consultation with WSDOT Aviation Division, they expressed concern, that not only would close proximity of the housing in the Aviator Heights development to the runway pose a potential hazard to aircraft landing and taking off and landing at Swanson Field, but it would expose the residents of the housing development to possibility of death or injury in the event of an aircraft incident on airport property. (emphasis added)

    The FAA concurs with WSDOT division’s concerns regarding potential risks to life, property associated with locating a housing development within 200 feet of the edge of the runway. The most critical phase of flights are takeoff and landing.’ I highly recommend you read this. This has a lot of information that you didn’t hear yet tonight."

    Timmerman continued, “Also, they expressed a concern, and so did we, for introducing children, teens and young adults, into an airport environment what I hear the insurance agents call an attractive nuisance. A teen climbed an airport fence, got up onto the rotating light beacon and fell off, then sued the municipality, and won. Airports are an aviation environment. I want to stress that. They’re no place for playgrounds, or families to be accessing.

    “In regards to the hangars and commercial development, we have concern for introducing 49 businesses into that aviation environment, with people that aren’t familiar with aviation activities, or runway activity. We’re also concerned about parking for all these businesses. We have a plan for 49 businesses. I see no parking. That parking needs to be identified; it needs to go through the 7460 process.

    I also see the road to access these commercial properties and hangars, has not been 7460’d yet either. In regards to the close proximity of these, we also have concern that eliminating the fencing all through here (points to area indicated on map) will provide easy access to the airport, from anyone that comes there.”

    Timmerman went on to say the proposed laser fence is not a physical barrier and would not stop someone from going right through. He said homeowners’ associations often dissolve, and businesses change hands. “There is no enforcement mechanism available to keep these people off that airport property.

WSDOT: "This is an Active Airport; You do not Want to Attract Children..."

    “Also, the FAA agreed with our concern regarding an issue that these buildings might create what we call mechanical turbulences. Air comes over the top of them. They mentioned that in their 7460 report . And in regards to Lot 23, I may be mistaken, but my review of the documents said the structure was not to exceed 14 feet and that is this building (points to location on map)……I think that should be looked at….And also, this property here (points to open space Tract D on map) - no playground, no community centers. This is an active airport; you do not want to attract children there.”

    The town attorney then asked Timmerman if he would provide the number of the FAA determination he was reading from. Timmerman provided a highlighted copy. He then pointed to the existing hangars, saying, “These hangars here are hazards; they were built, and they are hazards, in this development. I don’t think that was mentioned either.”

    Jacoby responded saying, “I’ll speak on behalf of the staff. We’re aware of that. But it’s not part of the plat modification. The hangars do need to be addressed, and the town is making inquiries into that. But that is separate and independent from the plat modification.”

    Councilmember James Schrimpsher asked Timmerman if there was any regulatory authority that WSDOT has over these proposed developments. Timmerman said no, WSDOT provides technical assistance, and the FAA doesn’t have regulatory power either, since they have no land use authority. “They can’t stop you from building something; all they can give you is a determination of hazard. And then your insurance – it’s on you after that. It’s a local decision.”

    No other citizens chose to comment. Nancy Ellis and Phil Beach, who had both signed up, declined to speak when called upon.

    Sean Comfort came back to the microphone to address Timmerman’s concern about Lot 23, saying he is still working with Shoemaker regarding the final height of that lot. He reminded the council the “recreational tract” - Tract D – was deemed to not be a hazard by FAA, and would be enclosed inside the fence that will surround the entire perimeter of the subdivision (not counting the non-residential tracts), and there would not be access for children to go beyond that tract.

Public Hearing is Closed, Council Deliberates

     Jacoby then explained to the council that it’s up to them as to how to proceed, and referred them again to the spreadsheet as a helpful tool for reviewing the specific modifications requested. He also said they don’t have to finish the discussions at this point, and can request more info from staff if necessary.

    Councilmember Abby Gribi asked if the plat would affect the town’s insurance rates. Mayor Schaub said, so far there has been no indication from the Association of Washington Cities (AWC, the town's insurance carrier) of a change in the town’s insurance, though there’s a separate policy on the airstrip, and it was not clear yet how AWC might respond to further information about the proposed subdivision.

    Pierce felt the town would be exposed to liability if it did not follow the FAA’s recommendations, mentioning specifically the four existing hangars. He said those hangars are part of the original plat, so have relevance, and should be part of the current discussion, while Jacoby countered they are not part of the discussion, which deals only with the nine proposed modifications to the plat that was already approved in 2007. Jacoby agreed that the four hangars need to be addressed, but not as part of this council’s decision on the proposed modifications.

   Councilmember Schrimpsher suggested the council go through each of the nine proposed modifications and try to determine what further information is needed to move forward.

   Councilmember Walter reported that awhile back he submitted a public records request for the building permit application for the four hangars, and wished to have it entered into the record. He said he was unsure if the document had any relevance to the plat modification process currently before the council, but felt it should be added to the record since the hangars are built and within the plat boundary. (Hangers permit dated 2011, signed by Jerry Nybo.)

   A lengthy discussion ensued on the Weyerhaeuser Road improvements to be made as part of the plat process, including the type of fencing on the east side of the plat, how far the new sidewalks would extend, where the public road ends and the private road begins, and what role Randles Sand and Gravel has agreed to in these improvements.

Gated, Exclusive Community not
Popular with Council...

   The next modification involves changing the road into the development from an airplane taxiway to a private road with a security gate. Pierce, Schrimpsher and Gribi all said the gate would simply create a secluded, exclusive community. Gribi said she did not like allowing a private, gated community. Pierce and Schrimpsher concurred, saying if the gate was protecting the airport rather than the subdivision, that would be looked upon more favorably. Pierce added that former appointed mayor Bruce Rath had an electric gate installed on his former property in town. "Actually, that might be the only one in town that I know of."

   Pierce, who was on the council when the original plat was approved, said the original intent was to make this an aircraft community, and pilots don’t necessarily have to have their airplanes running while navigating the taxiway, that some rural airports put restrictions on airplane owners requiring them to pull their airplane from the runway to their property.

   “By eliminating that [taxiway into the subdivision], what you’ve done is you’ve made an exclusive neighborhood with a gate, that does not allow aviation structures on their property. And in doing that, you’re basically removing it from the airport community. And what we’re going to end up having is over twenty exclusive homes that are going to complain to town hall about noise.

   "We’ve seen it happen in every other airport in the area. Pierce County is inundated with complaints on planes taking off and landing…I think we’re setting ourselves up…with these kinds of uses of this property, to cause the town a lot of liability, and a lot of time spent with complaints.” (emphasis added)

    Schrimpsher posed the question, do you limit the market by making it an aviation community. Pierce responded that you might, but zoning limits markets every day, adding he is not a big fan of zoning, but everyone should live by the same rules. “I think what we’re doing here is changing the use of this property, so that it’s not really an aviation-zoned area. It’s just a nice residential subdivision with a gate…and those are not hangars. (emphasis added)

   "Those are storage units…We’ve seen Garage Plus (applicant's building in Spanaway). We know what it is. We know what that’s going to be. We understand the use. And to try to make us believe that those are going to be airplane hangars is a fallacy.

Road, Driveway, Parking vs. Taxiway...

   "And the road in front of that [hangars] is a driveway. In a taxiway you cannot have parking. So if that’s a driveway and people are parking out in front of it, it is not the same as a taxiway. When I did ask that question, I asked if it was going to be considered a roadway, not a driveway. Roadways have different connotations, and you have to figure out what the tallest vehicle that could possibly drive on that roadway, to establish the FAR 77 rule.”

    Walter agreed with Pierce about changing what was to be a taxiway into the development into a private road, saying the residents would enjoy the private road, but would eventually feel their privacy was being encroached from above. Referring to phrasing he had read in some of the testimony from the aviation community, Walter said encroachment on small airports is gradual and cumulative, and asked if approval of this development could eventually lead to another similar development in the airport district.

    He said some airports have been closed after encroachment, and the reduction in safety, reached a point that it was not worth it to keep the airport open. He felt that approving non-aviation, single family residential subdivisions in the aerospace district, even with thorough notifications to purchasers, would increase safety hazards and be setting the town up for a lawsuit. (emphasis added)

    Condition 15 included strengthening the wording in the notification to purchasers, about the close proximity to air traffic, impacts such as noise, vibrations and chemical odors, and referring to FAA standards, regulations, height hazards and obstructions. Schrimpsher asked if the notifications would indemnify the town against possible litigation. Jacoby said anyone can file a lawsuit, but the notifications would make it clear to purchasers what they are buying.

    Condition 17, regarding taxiway paving and construction of the hangars, adds the term “multi-use.” Related to that, Condition 19 has added language stating Tract C is not limited to airplane hangars and will include other uses. Walter reiterated his concern about the structures beside the runway being used for non-aviation purposes.

   Condition 22 from the May discussions, involving a security gate to Tract B, was deleted from the proposal by the applicant. Condition 23 was renumbered as #22, and refers to recreational improvements to Tract D including aviation-related toys and interpretive signage.

Possible Risk to Playing Children...

May 2013 light plane crash at Burlingame home (photo by Bob Walter)

   Discussion considered the possible risk to children playing and clustering at this site, which is situated at the southeast corner of the plat, between Weyerhaeuser Road and the proposed private road entrance. Pierce pointed out that the airplane accident a couple of years ago at the Burlingame home is at the same relative location for northbound aircraft as Tract D is for southbound aircraft. He explained the pilots of small aircraft who lose power and are looking for a safe emergency landing site usually look to the left, because they can see in that direction.

  Jacoby summarized the main issues as: clarifying Weyerhaeuser Road improvements, parking in front of the hangars and commercial buildings, and what is the proper term for the access way there, where would vehicles park, and how would approval of the plat as proposed affect the town’s insurance rates. Pierce said another change brought up by council was the need to include fence slats in the cyclone fencing along the east side of the subdivision. At that point, Gribi moved to table council deliberations on the plat until the second meeting in February. It was seconded and passed unanimously.

   In councilmember comments, Schrimpsher said the Public Safety Committee will meet February 3 at the Visitor Center, and meets the first Tuesday of each month. Gribi said Casino Night for Dollars for Scholars will be March 14. Walter said the first Animal Control Committee meeting of the year will be on Thursday, February 12, and will meet on the second Thursday of the month.

  The meeting was adjourned at 8:49 p.m.

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