Operators of a skydiving school at Kapowsin Field, a residential airport in rural Pierce County, recently received their second setback in eight months when an administrative law judge recommended against renewal of a liquor permit.
Kapowsin Air Sports owners Geoff and Jessie Farrington had been ordered last August by a Pierce County Superior Court judge to scale back their thriving skydiving business at the airport, 10 miles south of Orting. The Farringtons have gone to the Washington State Court of Appeals to contest that land-use-permit decision.
The more recent rebuff came in the form of a permit ruling released April 25. Administrative Law Judge Ernest Heller recommended the state Liquor Control Board deny a permit renewal requested by Kapowsin Air Sports. The board is expected to issue a final decision in a month or so.
The Class 4 special permit is the type required at a private banquet. It doesn't allow alcohol sales but permits the school to serve alcohol for free.
"It appears that consumption of beer following a day of skydiving is the expectation of many skydivers," Heller said in his ruling. "The beer consumption seems to have developed into an uncontrolled potluck party."
Jessi Farrington disputed that description. She said a few drinks at the end of a dive day is a 50-year tradition among skydivers.
"People who are making decisions are not experiencing any of what's going on here," she said.
Arguments on the subject were heard last December and in March after Pierce County land-use officials objected to the renewal request. County officials said a liquor license is not allowable at the airport, which is zoned for rural residential use.
The skydiving school has been controversial among airport residents for the past few years. Some residents, as well as Pierce County officials, think the 23-year-old school has outgrown what it set out to be.
The Farringtons bought 110 acres in the rural area, built the airport and opened the school. Over the years, pilots and skydivers bought portions of the airport, which now features 27 residences. The skydiving school started in 1978 with 2,000 jumps a year and the level of activity has grown to 20,000 jumps.
Farrington said Heller's ruling won't affect her school, but said, "it's going to affect the social aspect of it."