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"Landings at Mt. Rainier, LLC" Begins Saving the Airport

                                                                                                                                                                           (photo by Bob Walter)

      The first two homes in the 21-home Aviator Heights residential development next to Swanson Field are taking shape, with an open house planned for the first one before the end of October.

        by Bob Walter
       September 25, 2017

     Eatonville's Swanson Field (aka Eatonville Airport) is in the news again. At the September 11, 2017 town council meeting, Byron Adams, of the Ashford-based  corporation, Landings at Mt. Rainier, L.L.C., read a press release announcing new ownership of the airport runway.

    The opening paragraph of the release reads, "Landings at Mt. Rainier, LLC is happy to announce the purchase of the two parcels of land that make up 2600 feet of the town of  Eatonville's Swanson Field from Mrs. Sharon Burlingame, widow of United Airlines Captain H.W. (Hal) Burlingame. This property was acquired with the express intent of preserving it as an airport for the town of Eatonville, its residents, aviation-dependent businesses, and the next generation of Eatonville aviators."

    This airport, since it was first cleared in the 1950's by volunteer labor, has existed as a sort of partnership between local aviation enthusiasts and the town, and has served as a critical Medevac facility in rescue operations from Mount Rainier National Park and elsewhere. Its future is once again the subject of debate, including discussions at the most recent Airport Advisory Commission meeting about a 10-year-old quit claim deed associated with the middle parcel on the runway, that was originally crafted about 12 years ago to help preserve the airport in perpetuity.

    At about that time a preliminary plat for a residential development called Aviator Heights was approved, and when the developer began making major changes to the topography along the southeast quadrant of the airport, which threatened to encroach upon air traffic patterns, the quit claim deed was rescinded by Burlingame, who felt the spirit of the agreement was not being upheld by the town administration.

    Byron Adam's father, Rick Adams, is also a board member of Landings, and has been an active participant in discussions, both within the former Airport Committee agendas and at town council, about how best to preserve this essential transportation facility from encroachment by residential development and other threats, and how to enhance its aviation-industrial development potential. He currently serves on the Airport Advisory Commission, a body which has replaced, in large part, the function of the former council standing committee.

   Aviator Heights is now partially-completed. After years of hearings,countless letters and testimony from aviation experts, professionals, pilots, Mount Rainier National Park in opposition to a housing development on an airport. After litigation, a bankruptcy, a proposal by a new developer, and numerous required changes to the preliminary plat conditions, the final plat was approved earlier this year as a non-aviation residentialdevelopment of 21 houses, with a row of hangars/businesses planned below them and closer to the runway.

    Four large hangars with facades have been built, and a large, peculiar (for an airport runway) bordered, circular, bed of gravel was constructed several years ago, straddling the center line at the south end of the runway. As of this writing, several house foundations have been poured, and two of the houses are nearing completion.

    While the impacts of this approved but uncompleted final plat are yet to be seen, the fierce debate it has spawned over the years is undoubtedly a large factor in continuing arguments and maneuverings over the future of Eatonville's airport.

     Publisher's Note - See below for some of the letters regarding development of housing on airport.

Another Expert Gives Thumbs Down to More Homes at Airport
WSDOT Aviation Planner Explains Flaws in Plan

                                                                                                                                                                          (photo by Bob Walter)

      In May 2013 a light plane hit the Burlingame home off Swanson Airport in Eatonville. The light plane was totaled but no one was in the home at the time - the pilot and passenger suffered only minor injuries. See more about this public safety incident Here.  

      In a letter to  Eatonville Town Attorney Gregory A. Jacoby from WSDOT Aviation Planner Carter Timmerman states, "On many occasions, Eatonville is the only airport in the South Puget Sound area that remains fog free, and is frequently used when no other field is available. In addition, the lighted field provides the only opportunity for safe Medevac helicopter night operations in the vicinity. These operations save accident victims whose survival would have otherwise been jeopardized...
     "The importance of Swanson Field to the region and state's transportation system cannot be overstated. It is critical that every effort be made to discourage incompatible land uses that impair the airport’s ability to operate as an essential public facility. We thank you again for the opportunity to formally consult, and remain available to provide technical support and assistance."
      See entire letter -

     Also see letters from Manager of Airport Policy with Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and Federal Aviation Administration Airport Safety.

Many Issues Regarding Airport Development Aviator Heights
Safety Very Important Concern...

                                                                                                                                                                             (photo by Bob Walter)

     In May 2013 a light plane hit the Burlingame home off Swanson Airport in Eatonville. The light plane was totaled but no one was in the home at the time - the pilot and passenger suffered only minor injuries. See more about this safety incident Here.  

     See documents on the subject of Aviator Heights Plat Modification http://eatonville-wa.gov/files/u2/022414_AH_public_hearing.pdf

     by Dixie A. Walter
     March 3, 2014

     Instead of the handful of citizens who regularly attend town council meetings, the meeting room at the Community Center was full during the February 24 meeting. Almost everyone attending had some interest in the airport development, known as Aviator Heights.
     A large number of people signed up to speak about this development. Before the public hearing was called by Mayor Mike Schaub, the town attorney explained the applicant wouldn't be at the hearing as he had a "medical emergency" with a "family member."
    The attorney further explained the applicant would like to continue the hearing until the March 10 council meeting. But noted citizens who wanted to speak could do so that night. Because this council meeting's public hearing was quasi-judicial citizens who wanted to comment before the continuance had to be legally sworn in by the attorney.
    It was decided that citizens who wished to speak that night could make their comments and others could wait until the March 10 council meeting.
    Almost everyone attending decided to withhold their comments until March 10 with only a few were sworn in to speak.
    The first speaker during the public hearing on the proposed Aviator Heights Plat Modification was Warren Hendrickson. Hendrickson is the Executive Director of the Washington Airport Management Association out of Seattle. Below is a transcription of his comments.
    "Good evening…The reason why I choose not to defer my comments until March 10th, is because I hope my comments will have an impact on the staff’s and the applicant’s decision-making process between now and then…By profession I am an aviation planner. Beginning next month I will be the executive director of the Washington Airport Management Association.
    "And I am a former chair of the Tacoma Narrows Airport Advisory Commission for the Tacoma Narrows Airport in Gig Harbor, Washington. And in that capacity I conducted a hearing just very similar to this, with a similar land use issue for what was known as the Eagle’s Ridge Subdivision adjacent to the Tacoma Narrows Airport. 
     "I come to you tonight because once an airport is a public use airport, it is known as a non-NPIAS (National Plan for Integrated Airport Systems) airport, and it is within an aerospace district. (Editor's Note: In a follow-up call to Mr. Hendrickson for clarfication on this designation, he explained this essentially means Eatonville Airport is not eligible for federal aviation transportation grants, but is still eligible for state grants.)

      For the following reasons, I would request that the plat modification be deferred, if not disapproved, until the following due diligence items have been taken care of.

    "First – incompatible land use. The references I use for that are the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Airports and Compatible Land Use Guidebook. There are several references within there. In fact, one of them that talks about compatible land use adjacent to an airport, its first use of citing that WSDOT does have jurisdiction is in fact a case against the Town of Eatonville here some years ago on page 1-22.
    "Residential uses are also addressed as being incompatible with an airport overlay district. And lastly, there is  also reference within this guidebook with regard to avigation (navigation of airplanes) easements. An avigation easement was in fact put into place as a result of a hearing that I conducted in 2011 for the Eagle’s Ridge Subdivision.
    "And the point of the Eagle’s Ridge avigation easement, and avigation easements in general, are to give the easement owner the right to fly aircraft over the property, including noise, vibrations, exhaust particles, transmissions and other impacts.
    "It also advises the potential homeowner as to the nature of the environment in which they’re purchasing a home. So, it’s not restrictive in that way, but I haven’t seen anything that indicates that an avigation easement has even been discussed.

    "Second item – FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Airspace under Title 14, Part 77, requires a safe and efficient use of an avigable airspace. I haven’t seen anything in the public documents so far that have addressed the compliance with Part 77.

     "Third – FAA design standards. I see that there is a fence going to be built, dark in color, and of some height, at the approach end to runway 34 (Eatonville Airport’s runway). This fence would be in the runway safety area, the object-free area, the runway protection zone, and may in fact require lighting. And I haven’t seen anything that addresses compliance with FAA design standards...(unintelligible) 150-5300-13A, among others. The fact that hangars would have to be accessed through the gate and through the fence also might not be in compliance with the FAA’s new through-the-fence policy. You would be having airport users access through the fence in some way to get to hangars that would be part of the airport operations.

     "Fourth – The land use changes require that there be compliance with the Growth Management Act in the following areas: The private roadway changes and conditions three and twenty one require consultation. The hangar access by aircraft in Condition Nine would require a change and further consultation.
    "And lastly, the multi-use capability added to the hangars of Tract C in Condition 17 are not well-defined. Do you really want to put storage units or RV storage capabilities in an area where there’s going to be taxiing aircraft with moving propellers? There’s an entire safety issue that gets addressed with that, so that needs to be addressed.

    "Fifth – Lack of adequate notice to aviation stakeholders. I haven’t seen anything that connected this project with the FAA with regard to Part 77 compliance, with regard to WSDOT aviation and compatible land use, with regard to Pierce County, who is responsible for zoning in the area to the north of the airport, or to pilots and interested parties such as the Washington Pilots Association and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association to get their feedback and input - as well as the local pilots that use the airport and the other area. So that all seems to be not in comformance with GMA requirements under RCW 36.70A.035.

   “And lastly there is the case of safety. This is supposed to be a high-end, exclusive, gated community. Is it really appropriate to have this type of residential use, in what is basically an industrial area next to an airport?
    "So therefore, I would ask that the council and the mayor consider these areas, which all can be worked through. But since there’s only been 40 days since the initial application to the planning commission of the Town of Eatonville, that doesn’t even begin to provide sufficient enough time to even identify all the issues that might be valuable here."

Public Safety...

    Two speakers were against a development for reasons that boiled down to safety issues, both for home owners and pilots.
Tim Brown, a pilot who lives on Airport Road and attends Trinity Aviation Academy at Swanson Field, "respectfully" asked the council not to go forward with the development saying it would be a "grave mistake." He also said it would adversely affect students who were studying at the site.
    Dan Mulkey who is an aviation instructor with the academy also spoke, "I'm really against moving ahead with this without further investigation."
   Steve Van Cleve briefly spoke describing how the town had been through this airport issue before and had come to a "compromise" with the original owners of the land. Now, Van Cleve pointed out, the compromise is "overturned" with the new proposal for the site. He also mentioned he wasn't against development, but wanted to see it done properly because right now, as before, the issue of incompatible land use is brought to the fore.
   Van Cleve was born and raised in Eatonville and has been a member of the planning commission and town council in the past. He is a commercial pilot, flight instructor and learned to fly at Swanson Field.
   Along with public comments there were letters to the town from John L. Collins, manager of airport policy with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). See their letters below.

Federal Aviation Administration

Airport Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA)

                   February 21, 2014

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