Four Sunnyside City planning commissioners, from a panel of six, were faced with a decision last night that might have had a different outcome if the two absent members, Rolando Alvarez and Stephen Maltos, had been present to cast their votes on the annexation of 100 acres surrounding the city's airport.
Don Padelford told the commissioners last night at a 7 p.m. public hearing on his annexation proposal that he has been working for three years on a plan to develop the farmland that's been in his family since 1902.
In spite of the City Planning Department's recommendation to accept the annexation as proposed, two of the four commissioners last night weren't buying Padelford's plan to annex the property to the city and have it zoned in such a way that 350 to 400 homes could be built on the acreage, as well as making portions of it available for light industrial use.
The commissioner's turn-down didn't come quickly or easily.
"We're being asked to look into a crystal ball," said Commissioner Stan Davis.
The hang-up for the commissioners was the potential for future problems that could arise from homeowners, who might get disgruntled from living with the noise of a busy airport and petition the city for its removal.
Commission Chairman Brent Cleghorn, who appeared to be in favor of annexation from the very beginning of the hearing, pointed out that traffic at the city's airport has not increased, but has decreased over the years.
"It will never be more than a small, municipal airport," averred Cleghorn more than once during the meeting as he attempted to sway his fellow commissioners to his point of view to allow the annexation if the plan as presented was tweaked a bit to allow a greater buffer zone between the airport's runway and the land that was to be developed for housing.
All of the commissioners present-DeAnn Hochhalter, Ben Sartin, Davis and Cleghorn-were concerned with maintaining at least the status quo at the airport so Medivac flights could continue to fly in and out to airlift injured and ill people to treatment centers in case of emergencies.
They also discussed what impact expansion of the runway to allow larger planes to land would have on a housing development on the fringes of the airport.
It was at this point that Davis's expressed need for a crystal ball came into play as the commissioners contemplated what kind of increased usage could be expected at the airport 15 or 20 years from now.
Davis especially voiced the concern about losing the city's airport in the future. Hochhalter expressed her belief that the acreage in question was not suitable for residential development and was better suited for industrial purposes.
Last night's go-round was a continuation of a public hearing that started on Oct. 10 with testimony from:
-Nicholas Hertelendy of Kennewick, who owns a hangar at the airport and was against a housing development;
-Stuart Turner of Richland, an agronomist, who asked the commission to consider the growing demand for housing while realizing airplane noise was causing problems in other communities;
-Amber Hansen, speaking for the Port of Sunnyside, stated the port was not opposed to annexation but was opposed to residential housing in the airport area;
-Ted Durfey, who has a house and a fueling facility at the airport, cited the potential problems of mixing an airport with residential housing and urged the commission to plan for the future and realize the airport, which, he said, is being used by WalMart and Les Schwab to fly in corporate jets, should be preserved;
-and John Flodin, who has property at the east end of the airport, expressed a concern that a mobile home park might be allowed in the annexation package.
A letter from Kipp Young, emergency department director at Sunnyside Community Hospital, was also read at that first hearing, expressing objections to allowing housing around the airport.
Hansen and Durfey spoke again briefly at last night's meeting, repeating their opposition to the housing development. When Cleghorn asked Flodin, who was also present, if he would want his property to be annexed along with Padelford's, if the plan limited building to one house per acre on land adjacent to his, Flodin said he would.
The commission's discussion continued for two hours, and, at one point, it seemed that Cleghorn's proposal to build extra buffer space between the houses and the runway and limiting development of some homes to just one per acre-and Padelford's agreement to these changes-would turn the tide in favor of the annexation proposal. But Cleghorn had difficulty in even getting a motion for annexation on the floor.
When Cleghorn asked for such a motion, he was met with a long, awkward silence. Not accepting the commissioners' silence as a no, he opened the discussion again for questions.
What followed was just a reiteration of the concerns the commissioners had previously voiced.
When Cleghorn called a second time for a motion, after another silence Sartin gave a curt "so moved". Davis and Hochhalter cast the dissenting votes.
"I won't reapply. Everything the city has asked for, I've done, but I don't feel like being a dog jumping through the hoops," Padelford said after the meeting.
But within seconds, Padelford was considering whether he had the right to reapply to the Sunnyside City Council or to a hearing examiner he believes the city has hired to begin handling annexation requests Jan. 1, 2007.
This morning Mark Kunkler, the city's attorney, said Padelford's request is not a dead issue, although the city staff is still only writing an ordinance that could create a position for a hearing examiner, who could be on board by January, if the council adopts the ordinance at its Nov. 27 meeting. "If approved, January 1 is our goal," said Kunkler.
However, Kunkler said, Padelford's case for annexation will be presented to the city council at its Nov. 27 meeting, when city staff will recommend to the council to send the annexation proposal to the State Boundary Review Board for Yakima County, which ultimately has to approve the annexation.
"We have two issues here, annexation and zoning," said Kunkler, explaining that he expects the Boundary Review Board to approve the annexation.
"If they do, the proposal would go back to the city council, which ultimately decides zoning," Kunkler said.
"We think the issue is still alive, and we can work with Mr. Padelford's application," said Kunkler.