Airport saga continues

There were two Sunnyside's represented at last night's Sunnyside City Council meeting during a public hearing on a much-debated airport overlay plan.

One was property owners unable to sell their homes or worried about the expense of cutting down trees because of the airport overlay proposal presented Monday night.

The other looked to a future of flying cars and airport expansion, of keeping home construction away from the airport so Sunnyside can make a name for itself as a travel hub for tourists and business owners.

Caught in the middle was the Sunnyside City Council, which did not take action on the plan last night.

Instead, council will meet next Monday, Aug. 3, to extend the existing zoning moratorium on properties within the overlay to allow it more time to decide.

Council considered the plan without a formal recommendation from the Sunnyside Planning Commission, which was scheduled to meet tomorrow, Wednesday. At that meeting commissioners were to finalize its recommendations on the plan.

Planning Chair Brent Cleghorn last night repeated his call from a year ago that the city and interested parties purchase the land they want to use for the airport overlay because of the restrictions imposed on land owners.

He was also miffed that tomorrow's planning commission meeting was canceled by Interim City Manager Jim Bridges.

"As chair of the planning commission I was disappointed when we had a regularly scheduled meeting and the decision was made for us that we are not going to have that meeting," Cleghorn said.

Cleghorn then quoted from an e-mail circulated by Bridges saying that there were only minor changes in the layout plan that could be reviewed by council without the need for a second planning commission meeting.

"In due respect to you, I wanted my meeting," Cleghorn told Bridges. "It's bad form for you to take that from us."

Ted Durfey spoke up on behalf of the current airport layout proposal, which would ban residential housing within 1,000 feet of the runway. He noted that allowing homes would infringe upon the airport's ability to eventually expand to 4,000 feet in length. Currently the airport is about 3,600 feet.

"Sunnyside can be recognized as a hub, a place for hotels, motels, restaurants," said Durfey. "Transportation is a key factor in that."

The Port of Sunnyside also expressed support for the overlay. Port Director Amber Hansen noted that a document the city developed for the airport overlay discusses industrial and urban uses, but not residential.

At issue is the fact that at 3,600 feet the runway only needs a 500-foot buffer from housing and structures taller than 75 feet. If the airport expands to 4,000 feet, then the runway would just be on the cusp of a 1,000-foot buffer the state recommends for runways that are 4,000 to 6,000 feet in length.

Noting the impact on residents and businesses from a 1,000-foot buffer, Councilman Nick Paulakis asked if there was flexibility in the buffer. City Planner Jamey Ayling said there could be since the state issues only guidelines or recommendations on runway buffers.

Paulakis also called on city staff to mail out a notice to every property owner within the six zones of the airport layout plan.

Ayling said notices were not sent previously because of the sheer size of the area involved.

Paulakis countered, "I don't think that everyone inside that picture (the airport layout plan) realizes the impact on them. This is huge."

Councilman Tom Gehlen sided with Cleghorn about buying the property if restrictive land uses will be in play.

He also questioned whether the city would ever be able to expand the runway.

"We're making a lot of these assumptions and are we ever going to do a 4,000-foot runway?" Gehlen said. "I haven't seen the plans and the costs are prohibitive."

With Aug. 4 looming as the deadline for the current moratorium on land use changes within the airport layout plan, council will meet next Monday at 6:30 p.m. in a special meeting to extend the moratorium.

This would mark the third extension of a moratorium in place since September 2008. The original moratorium was intended for just a 90-day period.


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