FirstAir owner makes case for rezone before Planning Commission
MONROE - The owner of FirstAir Field wants to sell the airport but first wants to change the zoning on the airport and surrounding properties so non-aviation uses can be built on those properties.
Owner Daryl Habich visited the Planning Commission meeting last week as the commission works on defining the land use for the airport.
Habich is asking for approximately 62 acres to be rezoned so it can offer more than aviation uses on the property. This will help to sustain the airport for years, city staff and Habich say.
The request changes the zoning from parks and open space to limited open space airport. The new zoning needs to be defined as to what land uses would be permitted.
The request would allow both aviation and non-aviation uses, including a runway expansion, the addition of a flight school, a restaurant, a museum and hangars.
“It’s tough as just an airport,” Habich said. “As a standalone, it’s tough. So you need some of these auxiliary things that’ll help us go.”
The airport has been listed on the market since January, and a buyer is pending, listing agent Kevin Donovan said.
Habich is retiring, but it’s important to him that the airport remain viable, Donovan said.
The airport has been in Monroe since 1967, Habich told the commission last week.
While he would like to see more commercial opportunities open up at the airport, “you can’t legislate for 40 to 50 years in the future,” he said, after commissioner Bridgette Tuttle had made similar statements from the dais.
Tuttle said she didn’t want to get caught up worrying about what a future City Council might be able to approve at the airport based on how the city rezones the airport today.
“It is the prerogative of the council to change what they want to if they have a majority vote, and those council member’s are mostly voted into office by the people,” Tuttle said. “So I’d be less worried about” what they may do and more focused on making sure the intent is clear in the zoning, she said.
The commission looked at putting the words “tourism-related” into the definition of permitted uses.
Commissioner Dave Demarest said his main concern is that the definition needs to be specific enough that the airport doesn’t stray too far from its primary purpose.
Habich said he likes the idea of a mixed-use zone, where someone lives above their shop.
“We’re going to change the way general aviation is delivered,” he said.
He mentioned tapping into the market of “women in aviation” and offering college credit at the airport somehow.
The market will drive the development to some extent, but the commission is struggling with how much to trust the market to guide the airport’s future.
“At some point, you have to trust the market will place the things here that are the most economically viable,” commissioner Jeff Sherwood said.
Demarest said he agreed with half of Sherwood’s point.
Although the market likely wouldn’t allow hotels to be built at the airport, “The market very well might drive this airport out of here,” Demarest said.
Habich had asked at a recent commission meeting for the city to consider allowing hotels to be a permitted use at the airport, a land use many of the commission members opposed.
Currently, hotels are only allowed in a certain neighborhood downtown, the Roads and Rails Neighborhood. They also are allowed as a conditional use in the Al Borlin and historic areas, planning and permitting manager Paul Popelka said.
What might appear to be hotels elsewhere in town are actually large motels, he said.
Habich said he liked the draft definition for the requested zoning last week, and the commission also gave Popelka some guidance to rework it for the next meeting.
The economy is ever-changing, so it’s best to leave the definition broad, co-applicant Dan Reno said.
“If we can’t make this economically feasible then it doesn’t matter anyway — it’s going away,” Reno said.
For example, if housing is allowed to be built at the airport, “you can put restrictions on that,” Reno said. “If you look at the topography it lends itself well, there’s a housing development right above it. Everything will have an economic acid test, if it doesn’t pencil out, it’s not going to be built.”
The city is accepting comments on the scope of the environmental impact statement for the potential rezone of FirstAir and are due Monday, March 26 at 5 p.m. Submit comments to: FirstAir Scoping, 806 W. Main St., Monroe, WA 98272.
By STEPHANIE KOSONEN
Published March 21, 2012