Collaboration between county officials and aviators has produced a welcome revision in land-use regulations in Washington’s Snohomish County, home to one of the busiest general aviation airports in the Pacific Northwest. Newly revised regulations include provisions that require a compatibility review of proposed developments near airports.
“Regulations like these are vitally important to protecting both airports and their neighbors,” said AOPA President Mark Baker. “We hope Snohomish County will serve as a model for other communities because when new development is compatible with existing airports, everyone wins.”
AOPA Northwest Mountain Regional Manager David Ulane represented the association on an advisory committee assembled by Snohomish County that provided input on the revised regulations, joining the Washington Pilots Association, the Washington Airports Management Association, the Washington State Division of Aviation, and airport managers. The end result was approved by county officials May 6, and the new regulations took effect May 24.
The revised regulations establish a new chapter in the county development code pertaining to airport compatibility, and identify an “airport influence area” that requires disclosure on property titles for new development activities. County regulations also now require special review of various kinds of development proposals—both residential and commercial—located near airports, and give airport managers an opportunity to provide input on proposed developments near airports.
Snohomish County (Paine Field) Airport in Everett, Washington, is among the busiest GA airports in the region with more than 100,000 GA operations in 2014 and more than 500 GA aircraft based there; it is one of six GA airports in the county that will benefit from the revised regulation. The airport is also home to a major Boeing production facility and “is one of the most important public facilities in the region and nation, providing crucial support to the local aerospace industry,” county associate planner Christina Ghan wrote in an email exchange. Ghan was instrumental in developing the new regulations. “Airports also serve as important transportation infrastructure, especially in some of our smaller communities.”
Incompatible land use has long been a threat to GA airports, all too often creating pressure to curtail or close an airport that existed long before the land around it was developed.
“The aviation folks were immensely helpful,” Ghan wrote of AOPA and other groups involved. “It was a very collaborative effort that really drew upon their expertise. We also reached out to other stakeholder groups to get their feedback on our proposal, and invited them to participate in the project as we presented our recommendation to our volunteer planning commission and elected officials. Ultimately, I think we put together something that is supported by everyone.”
Ghan noted that the new regulations are a step along a journey that began a decade ago, when the county first identified airport compatibility as a policy goal. The state requires communities to consider airport compatibility in the planning process.
“This is an excellent example of a public entity recognizing the importance of general aviation and GA airports, and taking steps to protect the community’s investment in these assets,” Ulane said.