City, county at odds over Tacoma Narrows Airport

Study session: Staff reviews negotiations with Pierce County regarding development.

Tacoma City Council members were updated at Tuesday’s study session on the differences between Tacoma and Pierce County over the future of the Tacoma Narrows Airport.

“The effort to work on these airport issues is complicated,” said Catherine Mitchell, Tacoma’s assistant director of general services.

The rift between the city and the county involves Tacoma’s vision of an expanded facility against county concerns about how such growth would affect nearby residents.

The main dispute involves development north of Stone Drive.

The city-owned airport is located within unincorporated Pierce County.
Also factored into the equation is the city’s master plan for the airport and the Gig Harbor Peninsula Community Plan.

The Gig Harbor Peninsula Community Plan, which was adopted on March 12, 2002, provides residents, property owners, business people and county government with a detailed sense of how the community wants the area to be developed and what standards should be adopted.

Jay Derr, a land use attorney at Buck & Gordon, said it was tentatively agreed that Tacoma would not extend the airport’s runway, with permit-making decisions going from the county to the city.

The main area of contention involves differing interpretations between the city and the county over a portion of Gig Harbor Peninsula Community Development Plan.

Pierce County reads the provision in question to say Tacoma will not develop additional airport facilities north of Stone Road, while Tacoma only says it will not extend the runway.

Tacoma City Councilman Kevin Phelps said he couldn’t recall the city agreeing not to develop the land north of Stone Road, adding it would make no sense for the city to agree to any such thing.

“Municipal airports aren’t set up to make money,” Derr said, noting they do contribute to the economic development of a region.

“Having a lot of land surrounding it could be used to make money,” he said.

Amendments by the City Council to the Gig Harbor Peninsula Community Plan are pending before the Pierce County Council, Mitchell said.

Terry Lee, who represents District 7 on the Pierce County Council, said it comes down to development of the airport versus quality of life concerns for nearby residents.

“There’s a high level of distrust by the citizens of Gig Harbor,” he said.
Lee said he would like to see this dispute worked out in a public process in order to avoid going to Superior Court.

“The city wants to avoid getting caught in a Catch-22 between these two areas,” Derr said.

The Tacoma Narrows Airport is located in the South Puget Sound just four miles west of Tacoma and features a 5,000 foot runway.

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