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Snohomish County begins airport land-use compatibility study

Initiative to cover six general aviation airports

Washington state’s Snohomish County Planning and Development Services Department has begun a land-use compatibility initiative to formalize land-use planning standards around the six public-use general aviation airports in the county. The land-use compatibility initiative will include Snohomish County (Paine Field) (KPAE), one of the busiest GA airports in the northwest.

While the county has long had policies aimed at preventing incompatible land use around these airports, the goal is for Snohomish County to have an adopted code that will formalize land uses permitted around these airports, helping protect them from incompatible land uses and preserving their value and utility to the community and national airspace system.

The process began with a stakeholder meeting at Paine Field Aug. 26 that included attendees from the Washington Pilots Association, county airports, the FAA, and the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division. AOPA Northwest Mountain Regional Manager David Ulane attended on behalf of members in the state.

Snohomish County (Paine Field) Airport (KPAE), Harvey Field (S43), Arlington Municipal (AWO), Darrington Municipal (1S2), Sky Harbor Airport (S86), and Firstair Field (W16) are participating in the project.

Under the code being developed, airport influence areas would be established around the six facilities where new incompatible land uses such as landfills, schools, and residential development would be prohibited. The county’s planning code will also address height hazards, minimizing the impact of structures on aviation safety and airport utility. 

Ulane pointed out that the FAA recently issued guidance noting that thermal plumes from power plants and other industrial uses is a hazard, and he encouraged the county to refer to this determination and the FAA’s soon-to-be updated advisory circular on land-use planning, which will incorporate this new determination.

With the input from the stakeholder group, the county plans to develop and publicly vet a draft land-use code by the end of 2014, with formal adoption of the new code by spring 2015. Ulane will continue to support and be engaged in this process as it moves forward.  “As we do with other airport land-use planning initiatives, AOPA will support the county’s project to improve land-use planning around its six public-use GA airports,” he said.

Adoption of formal land-use compatibility standards serves as an effective tool to protect Snohomish County’s public-use airports, said Ulane. “As AOPA advocates for general aviation and works to protect airports across the country, we frequently see airports threatened with operational restrictions or closure, most often due to surrounding incompatible land use,” he said.  “Residential encroachment on airports results in neighbors complaining about noise, pollution, and other hazards. Poor planning often leaves airports surrounded by houses, churches, schools and other sensitive development.”  

The process being undertaken by Snohomish County will help the community better coexist with their airports, while ensuring that local, state, and federal airport investments are protected, and that the significant economic benefits created by airports in the county can endure, said Ulane. “We congratulate Snohomish County on working proactively to protect their GA airports, and appreciate the support received for this initiative from the Washington Pilots Association and the state Department of Transportation’s Aviation Division.”

AOPA members in Snohomish County are being encouraged to closely follow the process and weigh in at key public input opportunities that will be provided as the land-use code is developed.

Topics: Airport Advocacy, Airport, Advocacy

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