October 1, 2008

Airport Overlay Debate Continues, but Process Could Be Slow

By Patrick D Muir

The players in the Yakima Air Terminal overlay zone debate laid some of the groundwork Thursday for what looks to be a long and perhaps contentious process.

Proposed revisions to the overlay zone, which is designed to keep incompatible development away from the airport, have been the subject of conflict as airport backers pushing for future expansion collide with developers unwilling to give too much.

That debate continued Thursday at a joint meeting of the Union Gap and Yakima Urban Area planning commissions. But the meeting was little more than an information session for members of those commissions. They are not yet being asked to weigh in on proposed changes to the ordinance.

"We are not ready to have you start the public process on this," said Bill Cook, Yakima's economic development director, who added that there would need to be State Environmental Policy Act review on the plan before any decisions could be made.

"But this is a valuable discussion to get the public aware of where we're going," he said.

Essentially the proposed changes would allow greater flexibility for development in the parts of the overlay zone farthest from the airport and would further restrict the type of development allowed in the parts closest to the airport.

A significant sticking point is the city's agreement to allow development of a Wal-Mart superstore, light industrial and medium- density residential development on the Congdon Orchards property northwest of the airport. Under the proposed revisions to the overlay, the heart of that property would not be in an area that doesn't allow medium-density residential development the city agreed to.

Congdon attorney Mike Shinn, in addition to raising the question of whether the airport could be forced to buy some of the land it regulates, also provided evidence against the idea that the runway has to be extended at some point in the future.

"There are a whole host of issues," Shinn said.

Yakima County planning manager Steve Erickson threw another wrinkle into the discussion, announcing that the county is going to contract with consultants this week to look into land-use compatibility issues in the proposal. He did not know when a report from that investigation would be complete.

Jim Adams, an attorney and member of the airport's board, disagreed with Shinn on those points. He also suggested that the city's agreement to work toward the interest of Congdon and its part ownership of the airport could present a conflict of interest in the overlay debate. These and other issues remain to be worked out.

"This will go through a very thorough -- perhaps exhaustive -- public process with public input," Adams said.

Pat Muir can be reached at 577-7693 or [email protected]

Pat Muir

Yakima Herald-Republic

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