Friday, September 2, 2005

Airport support--It's about the economy

Guest opinion by George Martin

George Martin is a resident of Camas County

After attending the city of Fairfield's Airport meeting on Aug. 24, I felt compelled to write this letter as I was not given enough time to verbalize my ideas and concerns regarding the relocation of Friedman Memorial Airport to Camas County. I also realize the fact that I am not the best public speaker and many times come across as having a strong, non-flexible attitude, when in fact; in reality this is not the case. I have always been open to ideas and opinions, but don't feel that the format of the meetings we have had to date have been as productive as they could have been regarding brainstorming and identifying the real concerns and issues the people have concerning the future of Camas County.

I also disagree strongly with Mayor David Hanks' prearranged format of pitting the city residents of Fairfield against the neighboring residents of Camas County. This self-serving approach doesn't foster positive relationships among our citizens and definitely doesn't encourage the people living in the county to do business with its neighbors. We need to encourage, not discouraged people to shop in Fairfield for our community businesses to survive.

None of our citizens are third-rate people and therefore should be treated equally, no matter what their age, religion, income level, education or what street address they may happen to have. This is a political attitude that must change, even if it requires a changing of the guard.

Both the residents of the city and county have a lot at stake and it's in our best interest to work together in exchanging our questions, ideas, knowledge and experience, versus being be lectured to and/or hearing one person's spin on what they think is right for us. I'm sure most of the people in the crowd had more than the allotted three minutes of time in just various questions, but instead were forced to spit out their best offense or defense based on the limited amount of information they have received to date.

The way I understood the mayor's format, my vote didn't even count since I don't live within the city limits. I don't understand why the mayor thinks we should be politically divided when discussing such critical issues? Can someone please tell me what residents of the county need to do to have his or her vote count?

The rationale of people who support the opening of a new airport in Camas County seems to be based solely on the possibility of new jobs and growing the local economy for themselves and future generations.

While I agree growth is desired and necessary for our county to prosper, the current focus of the neighbors favoring the airport doesn't seem to take into account that the city of Fairfield and Camas County are currently positioned to take charge and complete control of the tremendous opportunity they currently have to shape and design our community to be both economically vibrant and environmentally pristine, without inviting a noisy, air- and water-polluting airport within our boundaries that will impact the entire prairie forever, as the only solution.

On April 12, 2005, Citizens for Smart Growth (CSG) held a workshop in Fairfield. At this meeting CSG gave a presentation, which was an overview of Smart Growth principles and outlined some general growth issues. A total of 28 residents participated in the meeting and contributed ideas and recommendations for shaping the future of the community. In attendance was a small group from the general public, elected officials from Camas County and a small number of the officials from the city of Fairfield.

During the meeting, an "Idea Gathering Exercise" was done in small groups with the facilitators assisting the participants in an "Imagine the Future" exercise. In this exercise the participants were asked to focus on the future by imagining what different aspects of their lives would be like in 10, 15 and 20 years into the future. The participants then had the opportunity to share their ideas on what can be done to make the Camas County and Fairfield communities the best that they can be in the coming years.

A total of 102 ideas were gathered at the meeting. A large portion of the ideas dealt with improving upon community facilities (utilities and city infrastructure), economic development and transportation concerns. Many other ideas focused on preserving the small town feel of Fairfield, creating more jobs, businesses and recreation opportunities and managing the population growth to ensure a high-quality community in the future.

In a follow-up report, "Citizens For Smart Growth" reported the following:

· The current growth and population trends revealed in the U.S. Census Data and the building permits in Fairfield and Camas County are indicating the region is growing, and will continue to grow to support the economies in nearby counties.

· The current zoning standards may potentially create ex-urban sprawl as the area accommodates new growth. This is particularly true in the Agricultural Transition District, which permits low-density residential housing. The AT District is approximately 176 sections, or approximately 112,640 acres, and can accommodate around a 100,000 new lots/dwelling units if the AT District is developed to its full potential. At 2.6 persons per household this is approximately 260,000 people, while the current county population is estimated at 1,100 residents.

· This type of low-density development will have major impacts on landscape (sprawl, land fragmentation) even if developed at 1/10 of its potential. The county should continue to address this problem and consider requiring PUD's and clustered development in the AT District. This would work to preserve open spaces and the rural character in the county, and allow the county to service these residents in a more fiscally responsible manner.

Other potential actions may include revisiting the cluster and PUD ordinances to make improvements, implementing a provision for transfer of development rights (TDRs), creating a new residential district at the rural-urban interface allowing one-acre lots or less (better transitions) and creating more opportunities and incentives for infill in the city of Fairfield. The city of Fairfield may also want to consider how bulk requirements affect new development in the city core.

The city of Fairfield and Camas County officials also need to continue to work together in a collaborative and regional approach to address future growth; regular joint meetings between city and county are needed.

There is also a demand for new data collection using a GIS Interface. A GIS program should be used to re-create the existing zoning map, and map roads, utilities, water resources and other critical data.

The city of Fairfield also needs to work to improve the streets and streetscape in the city to help build community identity and pride, and as a means to recruit new businesses and economic growth, which was identified as a priority by participants at the meeting.

The report was only meant to be a short, windshield survey of some of the problems in the Camas County/Fairfield region, and provided a snapshot of the community's vision to the future. It was also determined that more analysis is needed at both the city and county levels.

We should, as residents, pool our knowledge and resources in a unified team effort. This should include various open, public workshops with true verbal interaction and a respectful exchange of ideas (not to include the various verbal public lynchings and one-sided stances people generally take on such polarizing issues) in an effort to develop specific, defined, economic and growth strategies. We should also implement zoning changes, which must include a Comprehensive Plan revision and convert our written plan to actions. This will require very strong, unbiased and motivated community leadership.

We currently have the opportunity to make our county grow in ways we won't regret, creating a solid foundation for a community we would like to move to, versus from, in years to come. Once growth happens, good or bad, there is no turning back.

Let's work together to create the community we will all enjoy in the future.

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