Thursday, March 10, 2016

More questions raised about proposed airpark

During a March 9 meeting about a proposed airpark development, Leighton Township resident Dave Tubergen stands up to tell planning commissioners, 'I need you to protect my property. I need you to protect me.'

Plans for an airpark development in Leighton Township are still up in the air after about 150 people crowded into the gymnasium of Green Lake Calvary Church for the March 9 planning commission meeting.

The meeting had been moved from the township hall to the larger venue in anticipation of the high attendance.

Although not a public hearing, the session provided a forum for comments about a proposed 3,000-foot air strip surrounded by more than a dozen new homes at the northwest corner of 144th Street and Kalamazoo Avenue.

Residents raised concerns about noise, potential safety issues, and a change in the character of the largely rural neighborhood. The plan would require rezoning the land from rural estate to planned development.

Some complained that only a few people would benefit from the project, compared with the number of those who could be adversely affected by it.

Similar comments had been expressed at a public hearing on Jan. 13. The proposal was tabled at that time to await a more detailed engineering plan, according to township zoning administrator Bob Jones, with Professional Code Inspectors.

The airpark was the only item on the agenda at the March 9 meeting. After more than two hours of comments, commissioners voted to recommend that the township board hire an aviation expert to answer some of the remaining questions.

"Why wouldn't the applicant pay for this study?" asked resident Tom Hopkins. Planning commission chair Scott Chestnut replied, "That will be determined by the township board."

Applicant Clark Galloway began the meeting by presenting updated topographical drawings that showed a smaller, 1,800-foot air strip that has existed for 42 years. Called the "Martin Air Field" or the "Green Lake Field," it sits on the site of a centennial farm known as the Martin Estate, which has since been divided between three owners: Bill Martin, Galloway, and Excel Development LLC, operated by Leighton Township Supervisor Steve Deer.

The proposed new 3,000-foot air strip would be located to the southeast of the current strip and would replace it, Galloway said. The development, called Green Landings Estates, would also include 14 2-acre sites for single-family homes that would be at least 3,000 square feet.

Under the proposal, each lot could have a 2,000-square-foot pole barn that could be used for an individual hangar, and there would also be another T-shaped rental hangar housing six to eight planes. A maximum of 25 planes would be housed onsite, and additional invited guests would be allowed to fly in for up to 10 overnight tie-downs per year.

According to Galloway, planes would be limited to a "dry weight" of 4,000 pounds, which he said was smaller than some aircraft using the existing field. All pilots would be subject to usage restrictions and would not be allowed to "buzz the field," perform aerial shows, or engage in repetitive take-offs and landings. They would also not be allowed to fly over Green Lake or Round Lake. Homeowners would have to follow site condominium association bylaws.

Several residents asked who would be responsible for enforcing the flight rules. Kate Scheltema, who lives on 7th Street, said she has lived at the end of the existing runway for 16 years, and that she has often seen planes circling her property for hours, disturbing the horses in her barn. "It is impossible to get tail numbers off of planes to call the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration)," she said.

Ward Walters, who lives on E. Shore Drive, said he has experience in the aircraft business. Because this would be a private air strip, he said, nuisance complaints made to the FAA would be turned over to the township.

Attorney Jeffrey Sluggett, who was there representing the township, said violations involving aircraft would be enforced by the township "like any other zoning issue."

"I'm not sure the township should have to bear the burden on enforcing all those (rules), getting the phone calls, getting the complaints," said planning commissioner Dave Wright.

Not everyone who spoke was against the plan. A commercial pilot said he felt the noise of power boats and personal watercraft on the lakes was "far more disruptive" than the engine of a small plane. Several people said they were looking forward to using the new air strip, or that they would enjoy watching the planes.

Todd Meulenberg, who owns property in the adjacent Summit Pointe development, said he also likes watching planes, but added, "I don't want them over my house every day ... I would never have bought the lot had I known there would be a runway there."

Dave Zylstra said he was concerned that the involvement of Deer in the project was a "conflict of interest." Attorney Sluggett replied that Deer had recused himself from voting on the issue in order to avoid such a conflict.

Dave Tubergen, who lives on 144th Street near the proposed air strip, said he was worried pilots would crash into a tall communications tower on his property.

"They're gonna hit it," he said. Pointing to the commission members, he said, "I need you to protect my property. I need you to protect me. I need you to protect pilots of unknown skill level."

Several residents said the proposed air park was not specifically allowed under the master plan. Chestnut replied that a planned development was considered to be a special situation, apart from regular zoning, and would be subject to rules and conditions set by the township.

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