In a last-minute addition to their Jan. 21 meeting agenda, Chaffee County Commissioners approved a motion establishing a moratorium on applications with a residential component for the area surrounding Salida Airport, Harriet Field. The moratorium, which will sunset on Dec. 31, 2019, will allow the Chaffee County Airport Advisory Board time to develop an airport overlay plan for the land around the airport, determining appropriate uses that assure airport operation meets Federal Aviation Administration safety requirements.
“The wrong kind of development could threaten federal airport funding,” said Chaffee County Finance Director Dan Short. “So staff has requested that we look at what uses are compatible with the airport.”
Last year a proposal for a development with a residential component in the industrial zone next to the airport, came close to threatening FAA funding for the airport. The project was initially approved by the Chaffee County Planning Commission, but that approval was given without input from the Airport Advisory Board. When it was discovered, the FAA issued a warning to the Salida Airport, cautioning that allowing residential developments that close to an airport not only jeopardized federal funding, but constituted a public safety risk.
The FAA recommends limiting residential development near airports to minimize the residential safety risks of plane crashes during take-offs and landings. It also sets residential development guidelines as a measure to mitigate noise complaints from residents. Noise complaints are one of the major problems related to residential subdivisions that often grow up around airports; as Centennial Airport in Arapahoe County, Colorado has experienced. The FAA, which administers federal funding for regional airports, is in a position to reinforce it’s position by withholding funds from airports which don’t comply with federal aviation standards.
The Airport Advisory Board is already working with an airport planning contractor to developing an airport master plan, which would include an airport overlay. While that is still months away, the final overlay might well be smaller than the temporary moratorium area. The airport has a current airspace drawing that provides approach and takeoff incline safety zones for the east-west runway, but does not provide a parallel 2,500 ft. space on either side of the runways.
Baker, who until this month served on the Salida Airport, Harriet Alexander Filed Advisory Board, interjected, saying, “This is much tighter than the one for the Central Colorado Regional Airport in BV. So probably develop-able land has some impact on the size of the overlay. I know that upwind off the southerly approach to this airport has height restrictions.”
The decision was not without extensive discussion, with Board Chair Greg Felt and Commissioner Rusty Granzella expressing reservations based on the view that any kind of moratorium might be a limitation on property rights.
“You’re talking about taking 3,000 to 4,000 acres of private land and saying you can’t build a house there anymore,” said Felt. “I’m struggling with that … maybe I don’t understand something, but I feel like this is an aggressive approach to solving a problem.”
“The county almost lost significant funding because we didn’t have regulations addressing this – it created a mini-crisis,” said County Attorney Jenny Davis. “It only went away when the applicant pulled the application … the point of the moratorium is to address what the rules would look like. Jurisdictions do it all the time to allow time to create the regulations. This will include a public hearing, so the public will have the chance to comment.”
“I’m not excited to see any of this land developed, but I am extremely concerned about people’s property right, regardless of the statutes,” said Felt. “It’s very impactful to planning, to people being able to continue in agriculture.”
Davis added that the moratorium would only affect the residential component, while commercial development applications can continue. She pointed out that this is hardly the first time the county has placed a temporary moratorium on applications; in the past it has done so to slow down applications for things like residential subdivisions and short term rentals. “We have the FAA telling us here that funding is in danger. We need to act,” said Davis.
Granzella asked what would be used to determine the outline of the final airport overlay.
“It is traditionally defined by a sound study,” said Planning Manager Jordan, who indicated that the airport planners working on the master plan are likely to recommend establishing an airport protection district in addition to the FAA’s current incline protection plains. The current zone preserves the current east and west approach and take-off safety zones along the airport perimeter, one of which is already intersected by power lines that shorten the take-off zone. Residential housing is already encroaching on the incline safety zones.
“The main thrust of our effort is to not get any more residential land use applications coming in for this area,” said Roorda. “Currently we don’t have even an informal footprint and we’re trying to create safety zones. If someone wants to build a house on their property, they can. Our Land Use Code does allow it now – but we’re trying to keep the build up from happening … to keep any sort of residential development subdivisions from occurring there.”
“This will give you time to do it right; then you don’t affect personal property rights,” said Short. “We had a funding crisis for the airport if we had let that project stand.”
Asked whether there were any current projects that would be affected by the moratorium, Roorda said the county has one applicant for a five-lot commercial project in the industrial zone. “He is willing to add a plat note prohibiting residential (development). I anticipate we’re going to need input from our planning group,” said Roorda.
As co-owner of the airport, the city of Salida will be informed, and the Airport Advisory Board will need to approve the final airport overlay plan, as well.