State hearings board sides with county in APZ dispute

A state growth management hearings board has sided with Island County in the dispute over the county's adoption of land-use regulations for "accident protection zones" near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

Island County officials have been harshly criticized for the rules on "accident protection zones," or APZs. Some residents complained the county did a poor job of notifying property owners about the update of the rules, which affect 1,178 properties near Navy land on north and central Whidbey. The regulations “grandfathered” existing buildings, activities and uses, but prohibited new schools, churches, day cares, bed-and-breakfasts, campgrounds and other similar uses from being built in the zone where Navy aircraft might crash.

The debate over APZs was a central issue in both campaigns for county commissioner this year, with Democratic candidates faulting Republican incumbents and the county planning department over the county's notification process.

In a decision tendered this week by the Western Washington Growth Management Hearings Board, however, the board rejected an appeal that challenged the county's adoption of the new rules in March.

Rebecca Spraitzar, an Oak Harbor resident who owns a piece of land within an APZ, filed an appeal with the growth board in May. She claimed the notice on the changes issued by the county was “incomprehensively cryptic” to the average citizen.

The county said officials properly followed the rules set out for notifying citizens of potential changes to its land-use plan, and said landowners near Naval Air Station Whidbey Island's Ault Field and Outlying Field near Coupeville were properly notified. Beyond notices in newspapers, county officials said individualized letters were sent to the most affected property owners, the proposed amendments were posted on the county's Web site, and many newspaper articles were written about the APZ changes.

The hearings board said Spraitzar had raised a "very narrow challenge" that the county had violated the part of the Growth Management Act that centers on how counties notify people about changes to comprehensive plans, which are long-range plans for guiding growth and development.

Instead, Spraitzar challenged the content of the notices themselves, and the hearings board rejected the appeal because Spraitzar had not raised the issue earlier in her petition for review.

The hearings board issued its decision on Monday, Nov. 10. Spraitzar has 10 days to appeal.

Spraitzar final decision

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