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Guest Column: 13K sq ft hangar big enough for 12 aircraft proposed on San Juan Island

  • Written by Caitlin Ness Hardy

Dear Editor,

Home Depot is coming! And not just to town, but to your residential neighborhood be it Portland Fair, the Cape, or off of Bailer Hill or Roche Harbor Rd. Did I get your attention? Ok – so the big box stores aren’t coming, but the industrial metal box buildings are coming soon to a residential lot next door to you as we recently learned would be happening next door to us and fundamentally changing the fabric of our community.

A satellite view and overlay of the proposed structure in the residential Bridle Trails neighborhood.

My name is Caitlin Ness Hardy and I grew up on San Juan Island out at the north end of the island in Bridle Trails and graduated from FHHS. My folks still live here and last fall my husband and I purchased the property two lots over from my childhood home. We recently received notice about a permit for a 13,000 sq ft hangar to be built in our single-family residential community next door. To be fair, hangars are allowed on the Roche Harbor Airfield facing lots and we welcome them within the airpark portion of our neighborhood. But not at a scale that is so inconsistent with the land use of existing structures and our legal plat.

The two large hangars on Skyways are both smaller than the proposed hangar.

The intention and rules of our subdivision are such that hangars are considered an outbuilding/accessory building to a single-family residence. This hangar is more than four times the floor print of any other hangar or garage in our neighborhood and would become not just the largest on Roche Harbor Airfield, but one of the largest structures on the island, capable of storing up to 12 planes (without a fire hydrant anywhere nearby if it ever caught on fire). This hangar would rival the largest hangar on Friday Harbor Airport which is a public port where the land classification is not rural residential or rural farmland.

Last week I dove into the rabbit role of google maps and the County Assessor’s office portal to see how many other structures are like this on the island. In good news there aren’t many, yet. But in sad news, I believe if this structure is allowed to violate our plat and CC&Rs, then it will become precedent setting and could set off a chain reaction of large storage facilities that are not with the aesthetics of our community nor the sustainability that I would hope our County can enforce. In this permit the owners said that this structure fits the aesthetics of the neighborhood. I’ve added a couple of pictures here that are overlays of how this “accessory” building will blend in based on the comments in this permit application.

A representation of what this proposed hangar will look like walking on Roche Harbor Trails.

This proposed industrial structure will run from property line to property line, leaving only 20’ on either side of a 1.5 acre lot. The height will be 10-15’ higher than any garage/hangar in our neighborhood. When you multiply that additional height by a 13,000 sq ft footprint, you can only imagine the additional volume this adds. To put that in perspective, this building would be 80% the size of Browne’s Lumber and half the size of Market Place. This single building will be a similar size to the SJ County Fairgrounds building. How is that appropriate in a rural neighborhood? And so far, I have only addressed the size but not even the environmental impact, exponential increase in noise, exponential increase in emissions, and insane impervious surfaces that could cause flooding to neighbors and erosion to our private road.

This type of large-scale hangar development will move the neighborhood away from our current island residential character and instead towards simply warehousing airplanes and other vehicles for owners who have no intention of living on the lot. Of the 12 Bridle Trails airport lots in our subdivision, 4 remain undeveloped. Allowing this nonconforming land use opens the door for similar commercial style development on three more residential lots. With four of the twelve residential lots filled with outsized non-resident aircraft storage, the rural residential neighborhood would look more like Friday Harbor Airport, than Neil Tarte’s and Roche Harbor’s vision when our neighborhood was created in the late 1970s.

So why should you care? The reason to care is two-fold. The first is that structures such as this completely dismiss the sensitive nature of the islands’ ecosystem. Did I mention that this property borders AND has wetlands according to the county GIS site? Secondly, this structure sets a precedent that could enable a proliferation of mega structures that could be built anywhere on the island in any rural residential or rural farmlands space. While emotions are not something that is considered in the permitting process, it is heartbreaking to feel like we are being strongarmed into accepting that someone else thinks it is perfectly normal to build a Boeing Field or Renton Airport sized commercial hangar next door.

So what can we do? There are many things that make San Juan Island special and as much as the islands are rapidly changing, I still believe firmly that the power of community and engagement outweighs anything else. If you want to learn more, here is link to the proposed permit (I believe there are some inconsistencies): https://co-sanjuan-wa.smartgovcommunity.com/Parcels/ParcelDetail/Index/9e5b1b2d-c1b6-4d26-aa99-d7f91b446fc5?_conv=1

If you are concerned about how industrial structures like these impact the island and could cause further change, send a note to the San Juan County Department of Community Development at JulieT@sanjuanco.com and dcd@sanjuanco.com. The comment period for this permit closes on September 29.

While regulation is in place that should not allow this permit to be approved, the pace of the world today can also give momentum to those looking to skirt the system. Community voice and involvement ensures that SJI remains a special place. I am so excited to get to be part of this community again and for my son to grow up around the magic of these islands. Thank you.

Kind regards,

Caitlin Ness Hardy