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Sunnyside paves the way for airport expansion

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Sunnyside Councilman Don Vlieger holds up documents for Sunnyside City Planner Jamey Ayling as he questions the need for an expanded airport overlay ordinance at last night's council meeting.

After two years of public hearings and planning commission meetings, the Sunnyside City Council adopted an airport overlay ordinance by a vote of 5-2 at last night's council meeting to protect the city's airport from encroachment.

A special meeting was held last night because at the council's regularly scheduled meeting on Jan. 25 Councilman Nick Paulakis asked for additional information when considering the ordinance. He specifically wanted to know what the difference in the overlay would look like if it covered the airport with a 3,999 foot runway versus a 4,000 foot runway.

The extra foot increases the size of restrictions on land use around the airport from 500 feet to 1,000 feet. The restrictions are guidelines from the Washington State Department of Transportation.

Councilman Don Vlieger told council members he is unhappy with restricting the rights of property owners and questioned the need to extend the 3,600 foot runway to 4,000 feet. He said pilots he has spoken with told him it doesn't make a difference for landing an airplane if the runway is 3,999 or 4,000 feet.

He also took issue with the fact that if the restrictive area around the airport was increased to 1,000 feet then one Sunnyside property owner would be prevented from developing approximately 70 acres of his land. Vlieger warned that the city was setting itself up for litigation.

Councilwoman Theresa Hancock took issue with that statement, saying it was misleading to say the city was taking residential use from that property owner.

The property owner is Don Padelford and he wants to develop his land that borders the airport. Vlieger said when Padelford asked to be annexed into the city he was promised an R-1 zoning, which would allow him to build residential homes.

"Who promised him R-1, Mr. Vlieger," Hancock asked. "Who had the authority to promise R-1?"

Vlieger said he wished he had the record of that, but remembered clearly that the understanding was if Padelford brought his property into the city he would be given an R-1 zoning.

Mayor Jim Restucci told the council the issue wasn't Mr. Padelford's property but the overlay.

Two members of the council, Paulakis and Tom Gehlen, voted against the overlay ordinance at last week's council meeting. Gehlen said then he saw no use to restrict property owners around the airport.

Both have come to support the ordinance since then.

Gehlen said he spoke with Port of Sunnyside officials and said he now sees that there can be a future for the Sunnyside City Airport, stating that with this ordinance in place the airport runway can be extended to 4,000 feet and even more in the future.

Gehlen did recommend that the city form a partnership with the Port so the structure of the airport can be reorganized.

Paulakis said he spoke with a number of people about the airport and looked at population numbers in the city and Sunnyside's schools.

He noted that in a four to five-year period the city averages a growth in population of approximately 700 people. The school population, he said, has grown by almost 600 students since 2005.

"That's just in children," he said.

Paulakis believes that without the growth of the airport, businesses and industries that might want to settle in Sunnyside will pass the city by.

Councilman Paul Garcia agreed, saying the city needs to protect the investment it has with the airport.

Vlieger agreed with the need to protect the airport but said a 500-foot buffer would keep the city in compliance with federal standards. Increasing the buffer zone to 1,000 feet will put more restrictions on people's property and won't increase the value at all.

Both Vlieger and Councilman Mike Farmer voted against the ordinance. Garcia, Hancock, Gehlen, Paulakis and Restucci voted in favor of the airport overlay ordinance.

Sunnyside Planning Commission Vice-Chairman De Ann Hochhalter said she was happy with the council's vote.

"I'm glad it was passed," she said. "We've been working on this for two years."

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