Flexibility for property owners to develop their land, as well as for future growth of the Sunnyside airport, was the focus of comments made to the Sunnyside Planning Commission last night, Tuesday.
The comments came during a public hearing on the city's proposed airport land use plan based on overlay zones for properties near the airport.
By state law, Sunnyside needs to have a land use plan for its airport and nearby properties.
While all agreed with the need for an airport land use plan last night - as well as a push for a runway expansion from 3,600 to 4,000 feet in order to accommodate larger jets - there were concerns over the impacts from land use zoning within the plan.
Some for example could impact properties nearly a mile away from the airport.
Canam Steel, for example, sits in zone five of the lay out plan. Roger Roudebush of Canam told planning commissioners that the lay out plan as drafted to this point would prevent his company from expanding on some of the 47 acres it holds.
Yakima attorney James Carmody represented land owner Don Padelford, who owns property near the airport and has been waiting two years to receive a zoning designation for his land. Carmody reminded commissioners they have flexibility in assigning the zoning, what can and what cannot be done with land near the airport. He said the state has recommendations for land uses near airports, but that each city has the ability to set its own standard.
Also during the public comment period, Sunnyside resident and former councilman Mike Farmer also called for flexibility with land uses, encouraging commissioners to allow homes with private hangars to be built, having access to the airport.
"We have to expand our view," said Farmer. "This is one niche we could go after." Farmer added that such a vision could become reality if the city allowed a 500-foot setback from the runway instead of the 1,000-foot setback being proposed.
Farmer contends that city staff has no problems with the reduced setback but that the Port of Sunnyside does. "It makes me wonder if the tail is wagging the dog," Farmer said.
Farmer's comment raised a question by mayor pro tem Jim Restucci as to whether there could even be private housing with access to a publicly funded airport.
City Attorney Mark Kunkler said he felt that could be an issue. Kunkler added that as a municipal airport, Sunnyside needs to fence in the airport as a mandated homeland security measure. That, in turn, could limit public access for those living near the airport.
Besides Canam, residential property owners impacted by the plan also spoke up. Jason Raines said he is renting property and has received an opportunity to possibly buy the land, but is waiting until the airport plan is addressed.
As for access and security, Raines said he saw people recently park on the airport runway to change sprinkler lines.
"A fence would be a good idea, it's been a requirement for many years," Raines said. "It's something the city has never done. If you're limiting access, limit access, but I can't see why we would say someone can't build a house. I'd like to see some flexibility given to property owners."
Jay Hester of the Port of Sunnyside cautioned that noise would be an issue if the runway has a smaller setback. That was countered by Planning Commission Chair Brent Cleghorn, who said he has information from the FFA that noise would not be an issue for an airport of Sunnyside's size. Prior to the start of the hearing, Hester challenged Cleghorn's ability to be fair because of views the chair has expressed about the airport.
While Hester and the port's complaint was duly noted, Kunkler said the appearance of fairness primarily applies to cases where the commission is considering action on a specific property. He said the court has given leeway in the past for officials to speak their own opinions on legislative matters.
Ted Durfey runs a fuel facility at the airport and he echoed the call for flexibility, but with a twist. He said for optimal flexibility in airport growth and to increase airplane traffic the city should maintain a 1,000-foot buffer from the runway.
Moving forward, the planning commission asked Kunkler and City Planner Jamey Ayling to come back to the next meeting with more flexible figures to accommodate the concerns of property owners within the airport layout plan.
In response to another concern expressed last night, Kunkler said he would make sure that language within the land use planning for all the airport layout zones would allow for residents to rebuild their homes in the event of a fire.
At the next meeting, set for Tuesday, May 19, at 6:30 p.m., the commission's sole agenda item will again be the airport plan.