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Navy Air Study Leaves City With More Questions Than Answers

The Navy drew a big crowd to discuss its new safety zones, but concerns remain for residents over just what impact it could have on their property values and city zoning.

More than 90 people attended the Navy's open house on its armed with questions about what impact they could expect from the report. The Navy came prepared Thursday with fact sheets and displays, while officers dressed in white summer uniforms appeared eager to answer questions. 

But in many cases they didn't, leading one concerned observer to say simply “this is not the best learning environment.”

The confusion stemmed from how the Navy's new definition of Accident Potential Zones (APZs) would affect homes and the future of land use in Coronado, particularly for some of the city's highest-profile properties, including and the gilded strip along Ocean Boulevard. 

Certainly no one is going to tear down the famed resort or Ocean's million-dollar mansions, but as Assistant City Manager Tom Ritter said, if accident zones near continue to be defined as they are in the Navy report “1000 parcels would not be in compliance.” 

From the Navy's perspective the April study, according to Naval Base Coronado commander Capt. Yancy Lindsey, “tells the public about the changes (we) have made in the type of aircraft, flight patterns, and the varying levels of noise and accident potential since the last report was issued in the 1980s.”

He pointed out that the Navy has made strides in reducing noise and keeping aircraft from flying directly over residences. “The city can develop the land anyway they want to,” he added.

But as Ritter noted there are guidelines that preclude certain types of development in crash zones. In addition to the hotel and homes on Ocean, affected properties would include businesses along Isabella Avenue. 

The Navy report, known as the Air Installation Compatible Use Zones update, or AICUZ for short, will be used by the San Diego County Regional Airport Authority to revise its Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan.

The city would use those results to shape its general plan, including zoning requirements. That process could take until 2014. 

According to a state Department of Transportation brochure, to minimize risk near airports and similar sites, it's best to limit “residential and non-residential densities and activities that attract people in locations most susceptible to an off-airport aircraft accident.” 

The document also noted that local jurisdictions can overrule airport land-use determinations, with certain conditions.

With those decisions perhaps two years away, residents at the open house were concerned about how the Navy's report would affect their homes, from property values to insurance rates, and what would happen if their house burned down? Would they be able to rebuild if the crash zones spawned new city zoning rules that limited residential development? 

Several people wondered why the Navy couldn’t shift its runway and bring aircraft in over the water, eliminating the need for accident zones over land. 

Capt. Gary Mayes said the move would be difficult, expensive and hazardous. 
“The landing strip is based on prevailing winds. It allows the pilots to fly into the wind, which is safer,” said Mayes, an aviator who will replace Lindsey as base commander at the end of June.

Navy spokespeople directed residents to the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar AICUZ to get an idea of how North Island's report could affect Coronado. They also stressed that while the accident zones were developed to ensure public safety, residents should not be unduly alarmed. 

“There is no record of an accident in Coronado. All took place on the base or in the bay,” said spokesman Bruce Shaffer of the seven incidents that occurred from 1979-1995.

Doug Metz, a school board member and the observer who shared his concerns about the learning environment at the event, called the accident zone question “the most important issue facing the city right now.”

The Navy apparently understands that. They hosted , though it was sparsely attended. Lindsey plans to attend Coronado's June 19 City Council meeting to make a presentation.

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