Friday, August 8, 2014

Airport board objects to Eccles land plans

Density increase called unsuitable for area south of airport

Express Staff Writer

In response to a proposed land annexation by the city of Bellevue, the Friedman Memorial Airport Authority plans to submit a letter urging the city to discourage more density near the airport.
    The Eccles family has requested annexation of 227 acres of its Flying Hat Ranch, composed of all the property between Bellevue and Hailey along the east side of state Highway 75. On July 28, the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission voted to recommend approval of the application by the City Council.
    Prompted by Airport Authority board member and Hailey Mayor Fritz Haemmerle, the board on Tuesday voted unanimously to direct its attorney to draft a letter that would address density south of the airport and urge that Bellevue discourage residential and business uses there. Board members expressed concern that those uses would result in more casualties in the event of a plane crash.
    An agreement between the airport and the Eccles family for their land to be the site of light poles south of the runway states that the board would not oppose a rezone of property on the east side of the highway adjacent to the Woodside Industrial Park to Industrial or Light Industrial zoning.
    The annexation application proposes 81 acres of zoning that include residential use (though 18 acres are on a steep hillside unsuitable for development) and 117 acres that include business use, with only 28 acres adjacent to the Woodside Industrial Park proposed for strictly Light Industrial zoning.
    Board members decided that their letter would not express opposition to the annexation itself. The board agreed to consider a draft letter at its next meeting on Sept. 2, and to call a special meeting before then if Bellevue acts quickly on the annexation request.
    Haemmerle has consistently been skeptical of actions taken to improve the current airport, urging the board to move as soon as possible to relocate the facility.
    On Tuesday, he angrily voiced opposition to the proposed annexation, in regards to both submission of a letter and to an upcoming update of the airport’s master plan, which he said should focus more on safety as a “trigger point” to prompt relocation of the airport away from populated areas. The current master plan primarily considers the airport’s outgrowing its current site as a criterion for relocation.
    The master plan was created in 1985 and last updated in 2004 with the expectation that the airport would soon be moved. Since then, plans for a replacement airport have been put on hold and a two-year, $34 million construction project has been initiated to bring the existing airport into compliance with Federal Aviation Administration safety standards. As a result, the agency requested that the airport draft a new master plan with a “dual-path” approach.
    “If we’re going to develop there, then this probably isn’t the best place for an airport,” Haemmerle said. “I find myself in a hopeless position as the mayor of Hailey defending my city on safety issues as the city to the south gobbles up open space. They gobble up open space while we’re protecting their interests, and I find that appalling. If this happens, we need to re-evaluate the whole airport and the dual-path approach.”
    Haemmerle contended that even though the land proposed for annexation is on the east side of the highway, it is under the descent path of commercial planes.
    Some other board members expressed agreement with Haemmerle’s view that development just south of the airport should be avoided, but appeared perplexed by his angry tone.
    “I would urge him not to get hopeless,” board member and County Commissioner Larry Schoen said.
    Board member and Hailey City Councilman Pat Cooley responded to statements made earlier by Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission members that if their city doesn’t annex the property, Hailey will.
    “Hailey’s never been approached and we have no interest in annexing that for any reason other than open space,” Cooley said. Calling Bellevue’s actions “fear-driven,” he said the board should “tell Bellevue to slow down.”
    By a vote of 5-1, the board adopted a motion to direct consultant Mead & Hunt to give special emphasis to safety in drafting a new master plan. The dissenting vote was cast by board member and County Commissioner Jacob Greenberg, who objected to proposed language that certain issues, including safety needs, “shall” trigger airport relocation. He said changing “may” to “shall” could restrict the board’s choices when other issues, primarily cost, also need to be considered.
    However, in an interview, board Chair Ron Fairfax said the master plan is not binding, but only supplies guidance.
    The board approved a fee of $611,726 for Mead & Hunt to draft the new plan. The work is expected to begin in mid-September and take 18 months.

    In other airport news:

  • The board passed a fiscal year 2015 budget of $23.7 million. It includes a $29,100 raise for the airport manager, to $156,900, and a 2 percent cost-of-living raise for other employees. In an interview, Fairfax said Manager Rick Baird has not received a raise in eight years, and the new figure represents a less than 1 percent annual increase over the consumer price index. “It’s a really overdue compensation adjustment,” Fairfax said. The budget also raises some fees for services for private aircraft, which Baird said should bring in a total of about $150,000 next year. He said the increased rates still leave the airport’s fees in the bottom third of resort airports.

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