Airfield zoning changes in South Tacoma set for hearing

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About 200 acres of mostly residential neighborhoods are up for possible zoning changes to meet federal guidelines regarding density in areas located around military airports. Map courtesy of City of Tacoma

About 200 acres of mostly residential neighborhoods are up for possible zoning changes to meet federal guidelines regarding density in areas located around military airports. Map courtesy of City of Tacoma

The risk of a military plane crash while landing or after taking off from Joint Base Lewis-McChord is low. The last notable incident was more than a half century ago, after all. But the potential is there, so the city wants to guard against the area just outside the flight line from high-density developments.

Tacoma’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed Joint Base Lewis-McChord Airport Compatibility Overlay Zoning District. The public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St. The deadline for public comments is Nov. 9.

The proposed changes would affect about 200 acres around South Tacoma’s Manitou neighborhood, which is located within JBLM’s Accident Potential Zone II. The area runs from just east of South Tacoma Way to South 72nd Street to South Fife Street to the city’s southern border with Lakewood at South 80th Street.

The U.S. Air Force and the JBLM Joint Land Use Study recommend changes to zoning and development standards in the area to limit significant increases in the number of people living, working or gathering in the area. The idea is to limit high-density developments to avoid disasters if a plane ever actually did crash, which is statistically more common during take offs and landings.

The area is mostly single-family residential homes, but there are a few pockets of industrial properties as well as a church and Arlington Elementary School. Those properties would become non-conforming uses, which would mean more review when they were renovated or expanded.

“The houses really shouldn’t be affected,” Associate Planner Larry Harala said. “What we want to do is start the discussion.”

Part of that discussion is to allay anyone’s possible fears of living in a “clear zone” or not being able to renovate their residential property. Any possible zoning changes will go to the City Council for consideration by the end of the year.

Tacoma’s zoning changes are part of a multi-year effort to address future development within a two-mile circle around JBLM, which is the largest military base on the West Coast. It has two airfields, after all: McChord field, which serves the C-17 Globemaster, and Gray Army Airfield, which serves helicopters and, periodically, airplanes. The swath of land under review around the military installation also includes the communities of Lakewood, University Place, Steilacoom, DuPont, and unincorporated areas within Pierce County; Lacey, Yelm, Rainier, Roy, and unincorporated areas within Thurston County; and the Nisqually Indian Reservation.

The last crash within the area occurred in 1952, when a C-54G Skymaster clipped a tree while making a final approach on McChord Field in heavy fog. The plane crashed into a field around Ward’s Lake, killing 37 of the 39 on board. Only 23-year-old Airman Curtis Redd and 8-year-old Joseph M. Iacovitti, who lost five members of his family in the crash, survived. No one on the ground was injured.

The crash site was about one mile north of the base and a half-mile east of South Tacoma Way, between South 84th and South 88th Streets, barely missing a 35-unit apartment building, according to an account of the crash on Historylink.org. It was later determined that the pilot had boosted his engine to gain altitude and abort the landing because of the low visibility, but one of the plane’s four engines failed. He was unable to see the 100-foot trees in the thick fog.

Public Hearing

Tacoma’s Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed Joint Base Lewis-McChord Airport Compatibility Overlay Zoning District. The public hearing will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at the STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St. The deadline for public comments is Nov. 9.

In addition to comments received at the public hearing, written comments are being accepted until 5 PM on Friday, November 9. Comments may be submitted to: Planning Commission, 747 Market St., Room 345, Tacoma, WA 98402, via fax at (253) 591-5433, or via email to lharala@cityoftacoma.org.

For more information, visit cityoftacoma.org/JLUS or contact Associate Planner Larry Harala, at lharala@cityoftacoma.org or call (253) 591-5845.

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