Legislature funding should start Airway Heights density reduction
The city of Airway Heights received some welcome news earlier this month regarding property that encroaches on Fairchild Air Force Base.
The state Legislature approved $2.7 million in funding to purchase land in Accident Potential Zone II, which lies in the approach to Fairchild’s runway. Airway Heights has made previous attempts at reducing the density in the area, but the Legislature’s funding provides a big step to making the plan a reality.
“We were very optimistic that it would be supported,” City Manager Albert Tripp said.
Pushing for the funding along with Airway Heights were representatives from Spokane County, Greater Spokane Incorporated and other partners. Tripp and Mayor Patrick Rushing, along with the other funding partners, spent time in Olympia last year speaking with legislators leading up to the budget approval, emphasizing the need for funding.
“I think that message was heard,” Tripp said.
Solar World, which represents nearly one-third of the entire population density in APZ II, recently declared bankruptcy, allowing the county to present an option on the property.
“It’s a pretty substantial impact in terms of how we look at providing alternative housing to those living in the APZ area,” Tripp said.
Tripp said the alternative housing option process was still a voluntary one, although surveys throughout the information-gathering stages showed that a very strong majority of the mobile home park’s residents would take up a competitive alternative. A series of meetings and workshops for residents in the area took place last year to gauge the level of interest residents might have in moving out of the area. Survey respondents indicated many liked the low cost of living and ability to have space for pets at their current residence.
Most homes in the area are in the mobile home park, but there are a number of stick-built homes as well. Habitat for Humanity, Catholic Charities of Spokane and other non-profit groups have been heavily involved throughout the process, and have already helped some families find other housing in the Spokane region.
While funding to purchase the property went through, attempts to procure some money to build alternative housing didn’t happen. There was a funding request submitted to the Housing Trust Fund for $5 million to build alternative housing in a different location.
“That wasn’t as successful as we hoped,” Tripp said. “Unfortunately, that application did not make the list and subsequently did not qualify for funding.”
The city, however, is undeterred and will submit a new application to the Housing Trust Fund in the next legislative session.
“We hope to have more of a local match,” Tripp said.
They’re hoping the new application will be better suited to stand out among the competition and rise into the ranks of those that are approved for funding. In the meantime, grants and other funding avenues are all on the table to try and build a foundation for constructing alternative housing.
Spokane County will be the recipient of the $2.7 million, and will be the property owner once the transaction is completed. The county would work with residents wanting alternative housing to find a transitional site. No date has been set for the county’s purchase of the property.
As discussed at the last City Council meeting, the land will remain subject to Airway Heights’ zoning requirements and building codes. It’s been suggested that the land would best work for an industrial company or aerospace manufacturer, given its proximity to both Fairchild and Spokane International Airport.
James Eik can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.