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Kapowsin skydiving school has 2nd hearing Zoning Fight

By adminon - Read 2491 times

A judge in the next few weeks will render another decision in an ongoing feud among owners of the Kapowsin Airport, divided over a skydiving school operating at the facility.

At Lakewood City Hall on Wednesday, state-assigned Administrative Law Judge Ernest Heller presided over a second public hearing on the skydiving school's request for a liquor license renewal.

The case draws a line between Kapowsin Air Sports and Pierce County officials, who oppose the school serving alcohol at the privately owned airport, which is zoned for rural residential use. A resident group, Citizens for Kapowsin Airport Safety, is supporting the county.

"The county's position is, in the R-10 zoning, a liquor license is not allowed, period," said Stefan Kamieniecki, a county planner. He said the county missed its chance to oppose the original license, granted in 1999.

An adverse decision would be another blow to the skydiving school owned by Geoff and Jessie Farrington. In August, Pierce County Superior Court Judge Frederick Hayes ruled in favor of airport residents who want the thriving skydiving business scaled back. Hayes told the Farringtons to apply for a conditional-use permit for their operation. That would give Pierce County the power to limit operations at the jump center, 10 miles south of Orting.

The couple's appeal of the decision is before the Washington State Court of Appeals.

The liquor license at issue is a Class 4 permit that allows the school to serve alcohol to its skydivers free of charge.

"It would allow us to sit around a campfire after the jump and drink beer," said Jessie Farrington, owner of Kapowsin Air Sports.

She said the school has such a get-together twice a week on average with about 15 people gathering each time. Even though residents privately own the airport, the state requires the liquor license because the school is open to the public.

Farrington said the skydiving business will survive without a liquor license, but said she wants to keep the tradition of after- jump get-togethers. She said the county's opposition is a way for it to shut down her business.

Not so, Kamieniecki said. The county's intention is to bring the growing school into compliance with codes and regulations, he said.

The Farringtons bought 110 acres and built the airport in 1978 to continue the business Jessie Farrington's father started in the 1960s at Pierce County Airport, formerly Thun Field. Pilots and skydivers gradually bought portions of the airport, and 27 families live there now, many with their own hangars next to their homes.

The skydiving school started in 1978 with 2,000 jumps a year. It has grown to 20,000 jumps a year.

A few years ago, some residents brought up concerns about liability and safety. A feud over the school split the airport community.

Jeff Dow, who has lived on airport property since 1983, has been leading the group opposing the skydiving school.

"The jump center has grown beyond its authorized capacity outlined in the original permit," Dow said. "It's a liability to homeowners. They are a hazard to homeowners due to the increased traffic and skydiving activities."

The three-member state Liquor Control Board has the final say on the liquor-license renewal. The board will review Heller's ruling, along with all evidence and testimony, before deciding the matter.

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