Churchill County Wants Buffer Around NAS Fallon

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Churchill County commissioners are pursuing a plan for a formal buffer zone around Naval Air Station Fallon to help maintain existing zoning patterns and guard against encroaching development.

The county and the Navy first established a buffer in an agreement in August 2003. But Terri Pereira, an associate county planner, said the existing plan "needed more teeth."

"It needed an actual ordinance and not just an interlocal agreement," she told the Lahontan Valley News on Monday.

Commissioners agree that the county needs to protect the interests of NAS Fallon, thus protecting a major revenue source and population booster.

They intend to initiate the new action with the first reading of an ordinance amendment at its regular meeting Wednesday and set a public hearing on the plan. If the issue is approved at the public hearing, it will become part of the county code.

Pereira said if the ordinance amendment is approved the planning department cannot rezone any area around the base to a higher housing density "because that's what is happening with Nellis (Air Force Base north of Las Vegas) and other bases."

"We don't want them to close our base," she said.

The formal buffer zone would require the county maintain existing zoning around the base, encourage agricultural or open space uses and discourage high-density residential development.

NAS Fallon Commanding Officer Capt. Brad Goetsch said in a past interview that Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas is an example of a military installation that didn't plan for the immense growth of the area, and now it is threatened by encroaching subdivisions.

Development of houses and businesses near the base brought complaints and restricted flight times.

"For a base to fulfill its current and future missions, it must have compatible land uses surrounding its facilities," according to the proposed ordinance in Fallon.

"Incompatible residential and commercial development of land close to military installations can affect the ability of an installation to carry out its mission. The economic health of a community is affected if military operations and missions must relocate because of encroachment."

NAS Fallon spokesman Zip Upham said the ordinance has the weight of the county government behind it that the interlocal agreement did not. He said it gives the Navy some say in what developments apply for permits near the base.

For instance, the county will notify NAS Fallon if any proposal for a structure taller than 200 feet is requesting a permit to develop within nine miles of the base's boundary.

Allowed uses for the overlay zone include single-family homes, guest buildings, farms, reservoirs and canals. Other developments would have to obtain a special use permit and the base commander would be notified of the proposal.