The process of developing the Airport Overlay District for the Salida Airport/Harriet Alexander Field has stretched out for months. The topic, which has been presented as a land-use code text amendment, was continued again during the Tuesday, July 13 Chaffee Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) meeting, with the next session on the topic now set for the Tuesday, August 10 BoCC meeting.
The text amendment would change the county’s current limit of one residence per two acres to one residence in five acres for a designated protection district surrounding the airport and in its runway approaches. (It should be pointed out that until recently, housing density across the county was one residence per five acres for new construction.)
Some property owners in the area say their concerns have not been heard, and they want staff to pay attention to their questions about allowed uses. Property owner Pete Guccione pointed out that the current draft of the protection district language allows him no uses at all for a part of his land included in the runway protection zone.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines the runway approach area in three-dimensional terms. On the east side of the airport, the land drops off below the mesa. On the west side, the mesa land is level; meaning that planes landing or taking off to the east have more distance between the ground and the plane, than on the west.
The topic was originally continued on Jan. 19, and continued again on Feb. 9, March 9, April 13, May 4, and June 15. Objections raised during Tuesday’s session by a nearby resident and development spokesperson Joe DeLuca, pointed out that in their view, proper communications with other property owners in the area has not occurred. While some residents were contacted, they say others have been left out of staff conversations.
The presence of an Airport Overlay District is a safety requirement of the FAA. Critical federal airport funding is tied to its development and implementation. Specifically, airport operations discourage residential density near airports or within runway approach areas for safety reasons. Should a plane crash, airports try to minimize the danger to residential areas.
The FAA also discourages nearby development due to noise complaints. Residents who move into areas near airports, even though they originally say that airport noise won’t be a bother, over time, inevitably begin to complain about the noise. Airports that at one time were far away from residential density have found themselves overwhelmed with noise complaints, and demands for them to alter their flight patterns, and restrict operation timeframes.
Centennial Airport in Centennial (Arapahoe County) Colorado, is now the third busiest commercial airport in the country. It is a classic example of an airport that used to be in a rural area. But three decades of unrestrained residential development has surrounded it with thousands of homes, and its leadership regularly has to deal with noise and light complaints from nearby wealthy neighborhoods such as Greenwood Village.
The Salida Airport has operated without an Airport Overlay District for years, without issues. But as the rural land on and below the mesa on which the airport is located is increasingly the object of development, the FAA has specifically called out Salida Airport for not complying with this federal requirement. Failure to adopt a protection district will jeopardize future FAA funding for the airport.
While the two commissioners present listened to the concerns, they pointed out that the absence of Commissioner Keith Baker (representing Chaffee County at the National County’s Conference in D.C.) meant that a full BoCC discussion wasn’t possible. Baker is the appointed commissioner working on the county’s transportation issues. The continuance of the topic may also allow for county staff to schedule clarifying meetings with affected property owners.
Information about the Airport Overlay district is available here:
Staff Report-airport Overlay Text Amendment
6.4.21 Proposed Text Amendment – FINAL