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Council shoots down airport land use ordinance

An ordinance that would have amended title 17 of the Sunnyside Municipal Code to define and implement regulations concerning land use within 6,000 feet of the Sunnyside Municipal Airport was shot down at last night's council meeting by a vote of 5-2.

It looked like Councilman Nick Paulakis would be the deciding vote to break a 3-3 tie but he wanted more time to decide the issue. Paulakis also wanted to see another map of an overlay for an airport with a runway at 3,999 feet. With the runway one foot short of the proposed 4,000-foot expansion, property owners in the area would be able to develop their land at a much closer distance to the airport.

Councilman Don Vlieger made a motion to table the ordinance but Councilwoman Theresa Hancock already had a motion to pass the ordinance on the table and it had been seconded by Councilman Paul Garcia.

The vote was 4-2 against the ordinance when it got to Hancock, who also voted no. Later she said the reason she voted no was because she wanted to bring back the motion at another time. In order to do this she had to be in the presiding majority of the vote.

The Sunnyside Planning Commission has been working on the airport overlay ordinance for two years. The ordinance has been batted back and forth between council and the planning commission. The commission sent it to the council at the Jan. 12 commission meeting.

Brent Cleghorn, chairman of the Sunnyside Planning Commission, told the council he is against the ordinance, calling it too restrictive.

"I see no need to expand the airport," he told the council.

Airport supporters would like to see the runway, which is currently 3,600 feet, expanded to 4,000 feet.

But Cleghorn said there is no need for that. He noted that in 1985 there were 30 airplanes at the airport. Today, he said, there is just a handful. He also quoted a recent report on the airport that predicted by 2027 there would be 21 aircraft at the Sunnyside airport. Cleghorn added that the best projections were still 35 percent shy of the number of aircraft in 1985.

He claimed the proposed overlay doubles the existing overlay. The proposed overlay assumes the runway will be 4,000 feet.

Chuck Rollinger, a Sunnyside farmer who lives outside city limits in the county, told council he was concerned he would be restricted with what he could do with his property.

Sunnyside City Planner Jamey Ayling told the council that all language regarding properties in Yakima County but still in the city's overlay area has been taken out. The county, Ayling said, already has an overlay in place.

Rollinger is concerned about having to apply for conditional use permits where before he didn't.

"There is no end to the garbage the government gets to throw on top of me," he said.

De Ann Hochhalter, vice-chairman of the Sunnyside Planning Commission, is in favor of the ordinance and told the council that property owners like Rollinger would be covered by a pre-existing conditions clause and wouldn't be affected by the overlay.

Amber Hansen, director of the Port of Sunnyside, urged the council to pass the ordinance to protect the airport. She reminded council that under state law they are required to protect the airport.

But Councilman Tom Gehlen said he saw nothing that warrants having a 4,000 foot runway. He wanted more proof that the airport needs such a large expansion before he would agree to the ordinance.

Hancock said she thought there was a lot of misinformation floating around concerning the restrictions property owners might face if the ordinance is passed. She quoted a report by Century West that states airports like the one in Sunnyside are in big demand.

Garcia agreed with Hancock, saying it was vital to have a plan for the long term.

Councilman Mike Farmer asked how much it would cost for the city to expand the airport's runway to 4,000 feet.

Sunnyside interim City Manager Jim Bridges said between $800,000 and $1.2 million would be needed for the expansion. Before the FFA would release any funding, he said, there would have to be provable data on the ground that the airport needs this expansion. Having an overlay in place would help, but not be crucial, he added.

Vlieger said he couldn't support the ordinance the way it was, calling it too restrictive on property owners.

Hancock added that many of these restrictions are already in place and that the ordinance just solidifies it for the future.

Council will meet in a special meeting on Monday, Feb. 1, at 6:30 p.m., to revisit the airport overlay ordinance.

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