The San Juan County Planning and Zoning Commission is expected to consider, once again, the issue of Sky Ranch on May 17 at their regular meeting. The plan to develop the airstrip, located in San Juan County, has generated concern among neighbors in Grand County. If recommended for approval, the plan will go to the San Juan County Commission for final authorization.
While the planning process moves ahead, neighbors remain worried.
“It’s my feeling that someday there’s going to be an accident,” said Grand County resident Karl Spielman. “Most of the time you take it into account that flying is a hobby that’s pretty unforgiving … every airport has had accidents on it … what’s going to happen is that someone is going to be involved in this who is not a pilot, whether it’s an airplane in a house or a yard. My driveway is literally 10 feet from the end [of the runway].”
Spielman is concerned that San Juan County is not expecting the airstrip to comply with Federal Aviation Association recommendations for small airstrips.
“[Developer and businessman] Mike Bynum … is foisting all his safety areas in the FAA design criteria onto the neighbors … there’s houses where in a normal airport that the FAA designed, there wouldn’t be any buildings,” Spielman said. “I’m not trying to kill the project. I’m just trying to say design it correctly … address these issues before they become a problem.”
Bynum said that the plan for the area includes some FAA recommendations.
“I know that there will be the FAA recommended displacement area at each end of the runway ... You start on one end and planes are taking off well before they get to the other end of the runway. We went over the list of FAA recommendations and a number of those have been included in the design,” Bynum said. The setbacks on the homes and buildings are all in conformity with the FAA recommendation of distance from the center of the runway.
The Spanish Valley Area Plan recommended that FAA guidelines should be applied to Sky Ranch since San Juan County, “does not have specific ordinances in place to ensure the operation of such facilities are safe and the impacts on surrounding uses is understood.”
FAA officials said, however, that the FAA has no authority when it comes to zoning.
“We can recommend certain buffers around airports, as well as offer advice on what type of development is compatible, but all zoning is up to the local jurisdiction,” said Lynn Lunsford, a public affairs manager for the FAA.
Lunsford said that a private airstrip such as Sky Ranch, that receives no federal funding, does not fall under any FAA regulations other than airspace review to analyze whether it is compatible with other aviation uses in the area.
Bynum said that he is in compliance with all San Juan County zoning requirements as far as he is aware. He added that he has chosen to keep the runway private and not allow the general public to land there.
“I think it is a significant benefit to everyone because it will greatly reduce the number of potential flights in and out. Although it is legal to allow public landings, we do not intend to do that,” Bynum said.
More information on San Juan County Planning and Zoning Commission meetings can be found at utah.gov/pmn/index.html.