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Why I Voted "No" to Remand the Aviator Heights Plat Back to Planning Commission
by Councilmember Bob Walter...

by Bob Walter
January 14, 2017

Our small town, and our state, is fortunate to have a public airport right here near the western shoulders of Mount Rainier. Itís not only a critical resource during flight emergencies and medical transports, itís also another way for visitors to come to town, attend events and spend money, and itís a resource for potential industrial development and associated revenues for the town.

At Mondayís town council meeting (1/9/2017), councilmember Bob Thomas brought forward and moved to approve Resolution 2016-XX, to remand the Aviator Heights preliminary plat back to the townís planning commission, so that body could address the conflicts still existing between the plat conditions, as currently proposed, and the many concerns raised by the FAA, the stateís aviation transportation division, the Washington Airport Managers Association, the townís Airport Commission, and local citizens, including pilots.

I seconded Thomasís motion, because I agree with him. First, state law requires every jurisdiction to discourage the siting of incompatible uses adjacent to general aviation airports. Secondly, the planning commission was to review this revised plat at one point a few years ago, and that review never happened. And thirdly, the findings of fact presented with Resolution 2015-H, voted on by council in March, 2015, mention nothing of the legal challenges adjudicated in 2007, mandating the plat be an airpark (see below). Nor did they mention the fact the cul-de-sac road had been built too narrow for a taxiway (again, see below).

This ten-year-old, long-delayed plat has been fraught with problems. After the original application was submitted, way back in 2006, a costly legal challenge resulted in a court ruling requiring that this be an airpark. In other words, in order to allow such a dense residential development so close to the runway of a public airport (one designated as an essential public facility in the stateís transportation system), home buyers would need to be pilots, aircraft owners, or at least aircraft enthusiasts, who would have lots big enough to taxi their plane from the runway right to a hangar on their property, just like the several homes that have existed near the runway for decades.

In contrast to this, a purely residential development, with no connection to aviation beyond the fact itís next to a runway, is seen as an encroachment that, if allowed to continue with additional such subdivisions, will eventually cause the closure of the airport. It has happened many times in our state.

Also, any construction near Swanson Field that might penetrate the imaginary surfaces defined by the FAA in Federal Aviation Regulation Part 77, or FAR 77, as needing protection for the safety of those in the air and those on the ground during landings and takeoffs, are highly discouraged. This not only a safety issue, itís also a risk management issue for any municipality, and ultimately in our case, an economic issue.

The original developer somehow, under the purview of the town administration at the time, brought in tons of fill and raised the elevation of the development by about 18 feet above runway level, constructed curbing and sidewalks for a cul-de-sac road about half the width of a 60-foot taxiway, built four large hangars that penetrate navigable airspace, and added a large, circular, boulder-filled structure (stormwater system?) right on the center line at the south end of the runway. The economy went south and the developer went east, following other emerging business opportunities, and the weeds began to hide this stalled, ill-fated plat.

These are the reasons why I voted, at council on March 23, 2015, against several of the requested modifications proposed within Resolution 2015-H by the latest developer, that were supposed to resolve the earlier problems. The subdivision was once again going to become non-aviation residential (which the legal challenge in early 2007 had already once reversed), the navigable airspace was already penetrated by the construction-to-date (the facades of four big hangars), and the tract of the subdivision that was closest to the runway would now include non-airport-related commercial property, such as storage rental units. All hazardous developments so close to an airport runway, in my opinion.

Getting back to Mondayís council meeting, I ended up voting against remanding the matter to the planning commission, and hereís why. Prior to the vote on Resolution 2016-XX, the mayor, council, town attorney and town administrator convened a closed executive session ďto discuss the legal risk of a proposed action.Ē Though Iím not sure what adverse consequence could possibly result for the town from divulging any of the matters under discussion in that session, I will certainly comply with our legal counselís admonitions and state law, and not discuss details.

Suffice it to say I came out of that executive session  convinced that  approving this resolution would result in substantial legal costs to the town, just like I feel the development of a non-aviation, single-family residential development next to our runway could result in potential legal and economic risks to the town.

So the council will likely vote soon on approval of the Aviator Heights final plat  conditions, and decide the future course of Swanson Field, an essential public facility in the stateís transportation network.

     (Publisher's Note: Since the public can't be told what happens in Executive Sessions I don't know what took place regarding the airport development. However, I can make an educated guess. And I'm guessing it had something to do with the lawsuit the town attorney threatened in the agenda regarding the issue.
    This is a quote from the town attorney in the January 9, 2017 council agenda, "Adopting the resolution would guarantee that the Aviator Heights developer would sue the Town and may in my opinion a judge would rule against the Town. In that case, the Town would be liable for money damages incurred by the developer and probably attorney fees as well. I assume the town (sic) does not have a large pot of money set aside for funding such a lawsuit."
     Here's a link to that section of the agenda -
An important question which has not been answered to my satisfaction, or to the satisfaction of many other citizens who believe the development can be a public safety issue. Why was this large housing development given to the Planning Commission in January 2014, then taken away? From that date on the Commissions agenda items don't mention this development and instead is heavily focuses on signage.)

        See below for links to expert's communications with council against large housing development on small airport.


Various Experts and Agencies Letters Against Airport Development

     January 5, 2017: For years experts in the fields of airports and transportation have been consistent in strongly advising against a large housing development at the airport in Eatonville, Swanson Field.
     On February 23, 2015 the town council approved, by 3-2, a development of approximately 21 houses and a children's park. Aside from the obvious safety issues local citizens questioned why this large development had not gone to the Eatonville Planning Commission before the project went directly to the council.
     Councilmember Bob Thomas submitted to council, on December 12, 2016, Resolution 2016-XX to be placed on the January 9 council agenda requesting the development project be sent to the Planning Commission.
Resolution 2015 - XX is below the links leading to protests by agencies aligned with air safety.


January 26, 2015 Council Report

July 3, 2014 FAA Partial Report

August 7, 2014 Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Letter

Letters Against Airport Development WSDOT, Airport Owners and Pilots Association

March 24, 2015 Washington Airport Management Association


Resolution 2016 - XX


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