A month ago, Al Ostman moved into the $1.2 million dream house he had built on the north shore of Lake Serene.
The lake is directly under the flight path for Paine Field, about a mile-and-a-quarter south of the airport runway. Before moving into another house on Lake Serene three years ago, Ostman said he was told that Paine Field, a former Air Force base turned general aviation airport, was “not going to get any bigger than it is.”
Snohomish County is studying whether to bring commercial flights to Paine Field. If that happens, Ostman could be among thousands of county residents who will find themselves adjusting to life around more big jets.
If it comes to that, Ostman said he’ll move.
“There are people that are talking about fleeing the neighborhood already,” he said.
A computer analysis by The Herald found that about 110,000 people – nearly one-sixth of Snohomish County’s population – live within three miles of Paine Field. That area includes all of Mukilteo, much of south Everett, the west side of Silver Lake, unincorporated areas north of Lynnwood and Edmonds, and even a snip of northwest Mill Creek.
Though no formal proposal has been made to add commercial flights to Paine Field, a county study in 2004 and a consultant’s study for the airport indicate that the demand could exist. Some in the business community are championing the idea.
People in Mukilteo have raised the biggest ruckus, with their concerns primarily focused on the potential for increased noise and the possibility of declining property values. The Herald’s analysis suggests that the area that may experience change because of expanded airport operations is much larger than Mukilteo, and has been growing rapidly for years.
Of the more than 27,700 homes and apartments within three miles of the airport, more than 17,700 – nearly 64 percent – have been built since 1979.
That was the year a set of county documents outlining the role of the airport was adopted by Snohomish County. The mediated role determination, as the documents are named, called for the airport to focus on “general aviation” and discouraged “supplemental/charter air passenger service,” large transport crew training operations, air cargo aviation and military aviation.
Nearly 17 percent of the homes in the area have been built since 1994. The year before, a state study panel recommended construction of a third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, rather than expanding Paine Field or building a new airport, as a way to handle increasing airline traffic.
Ostman, 54, said the development near Paine Field should never have been allowed to occur.
“They’re the ones that let the growth happen,” he said of the county.
Homes began springing up around the airport in the 1950s and 1960s, long before the federal government deeded it to the county for $1 in 1978, according to Snohomish County Council member Gary Nelson. Businesses, such as those along Mukilteo Speedway, followed.
Ironically, Paine Field was louder in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s than it is now, serving more military planes and helicopters.
“Those just drove me nuts,” said Nelson, who has lived in Edmonds since 1963.
When the county adopted a zoning plan for the airport’s surrounding area as part of the mediated role determination, it kept consistent with the pattern already established.
Airport-related businesses and light industrial were designated for the area closest to the airport, with surrounding areas zoned “rural residential” with lots from 8,400 square feet to an acre, neighborhood business and light industry.
The residential area east of Walter E. Hall Memorial Golf Course was annexed around 1970, and the area south of 100th Street SW along Holly Drive was annexed in 1999, Everett planning director Alan Giffen said.
Mukilteo didn’t annex south of 76th Avenue W. until 1980, adopting the county zoning already in place, city administrator Rich Leahy said. Harbour Pointe began developing in the late 1980s, before it was annexed in 1990, Mayor Don Doran said.
That neighborhood, formerly owned by Chevron, was not covered by the Paine Field zoning document. Neither was Faire Harbour, a subdivision along 46th Place W. in southern Mukilteo not far from Lake Serene.
Paul and Martha Overland bought their home in Faire Harbour, just more than a mile from Paine Field, in 1994.
They knew about the airport, heard it wouldn’t grow, and “we really didn’t look at it that much,” Paul Overland said.
The Overlands’ home is on the edge of an ink blot-shaped area near the airport that is projected to see an increase in noise by 2008 if operations are expanded.
If the planners have it right, the Overlands will see noise levels similar to the hum at an intersection in downtown Everett – about 55 decibels, said Bill Dolan, Paine Field’s deputy director. That calculation is based on computer modeling done for the airport. The projection does not include sounds from other noise sources off airport property, airport officials say.
In 2003, the airport predicted demand for the year 2008. It predicted that 10,831 passenger and commuter flights would be added to the airport’s annual total by 2008.
An even bigger increase is predicted for other flights – including small planes, military and industrial carriers – from 210,672 in 2002 to 292,786.
The airport hasn’t determined how much of the noise increase would come from passenger flights and how much from the others.
More than 1,200 homes are in the area where noise is expected to be at 55 decibels by 2008, The Herald analysis found. Of these, nearly half were built since 1979, and 29 percent since 1994.
Sandra and Gary Bland have lived in their house between the Mukilteo Speedway and Paine Field Boulevard, about a quarter of a mile from the airport, for 10 years.
“It really has never been a big problem,” Sandra Bland said.
She didn’t know their house is on the edge of the projected 55-decibel boundary.
“If it would be large overnight flights, that would be a bummer,” she said.
All of the airport’s noise calculations are based on average levels. In the case of aircraft noise, the average is arrived at by computing periods of quiet together with noise peaks when planes are flying over.
Airport officials acknowledge that average noise levels may not matter to some. All it takes is being woken up in the middle of the night or drowned out while trying to talk during a backyard barbecue to make a lasting impression.
The smaller passenger planes projected to use the airport in 2008 – 30-to-40 seat DeHavilland Dash 8s and 70-seat Canadair regional jets – are quieter than some of the planes that use the airport now, including 747s and 727s being serviced by Boeing and Goodrich, Dolan said.
Cargo planes, which often fly at night, are not figured into the 2008 prediction. They do not use the airport now and are discouraged in the mediated role determination. The county couldn’t stop cargo flights, but there’s currently no demand for them, and the airport could impose rules to keep night flights to a minimum, Dolan said.
Paul Overland said he and his wife like their neighborhood. Whether they would move would depend on how much the noise increases.
If commercial flights come in, “it wouldn’t be a very good thing for property value,” Overland said.
Effect on home values
John L. Scott real estate agent Joel Kois said airport expansion talk has yet to affect the market. Generally, property values hold until within a mile of the airport, then see a 10 percent to 20 percent drop, he said.
Kois recently sold his own house on Lake Serene and moved to a condo in Lynnwood because of the possibility of commercial flights at Paine Field.
The airport hasn’t stopped Larry Kiel, Jr., owner of Developers Investment Group of Everett, from buying land near the airport and selling it for subdivisions. He wasn’t aware of the possible addition of commercial flights at Paine Field, but said it won’t make any difference to his business.
He prepared land for a 53-home subdivision being built along Marino Avenue just southeast of the airport. He’s also preparing a seven-lot area for a subdivision in an area south of Gibson Road that would be included in the projected 55-decibel area.
He’s concerned about the drop in property values for existing homeowners. But for many others, moving to a home closer to an airport makes that home more affordable, he said.
The price of the homes on Gibson Road will be $200,000 to $240,000, while the same home in Mill Creek would be worth $350,000, he said.
Jobs are a factor
Kiel said many of his family members have worked for Boeing and have lived close to airports. The jobs created by aviation-related activities spurred the talk of Paine Field expansion in the first place, in the form of the county economic study.
The county has not done a study of how the airport could help the area’s economy.
“A lot of it is anecdotal,” said Deborah Knutson, president of the Snohomish County Economic Development Council.
Bill Sheets and Scott North are reporters with The Herald in Everett.