By Zach Hagadone
Members of the Sandpoint Planning and Zoning Commission took in a presentation Nov. 19 on the airport component of the recently launched Comprehensive Plan update, hearing from consultant Miriam McGilvray and City Planner Aaron Qualls on a range of potential priorities, policies and goals for the 115-acre property.
Planners have already hosted a number of outreach events, including a meeting with members of the Airport Board, an open house at the airport and community visioning event — along with the release of a questionnaire on airport priorities, which will remain open to public feedback for at least another week. A second questionnaire is set to go up this week on the city’s comp plan website (sandpointidaho.gov/imagine).
Calling it a “jam-packed week of input,” Qualls said the Nov. 19 presentation was meant to give planning commissioners an idea of some “emerging strategies” for guiding the future of the airport, which is operated by Bonner County. The airport comp plan component is also intended to make sure that future guidance meshes with the Multi-Modal Master Plan, which is also ongoing.
“This presentation is mostly so you guys don’t get draft in hand and have to process it all at once,” McGilvray said, telling commissioners they could expect a draft plan by early next week.
Planning is focused on considerable estimated growth in operations in the coming dozen or so years. According to numbers shared with P&Z commissioners by McGilvray, more than 100 aircraft are currently based at the facility, which conducts about 35,000 operations per year. Meanwhile, the 2019 draft airport environmental assessment forecasts as many as 137 aircraft and 43,200 operations by the year 2032.
To accommodate that growth, the preliminary comp plan recommendations include a range of goals and policies meant to address public health and safety, economic benefits, compatibility of land uses, hazard prevention and future operations.
Some big changes in the preliminary recommendations included expanding and moving the existing taxiway 40 feet on the east side of the runway and constructing an entirely new taxiway along the length of the runway to the west. Along with that, the preliminary plan includes resurfacing the runway and points to potential capital improvement projects supportive of aviation-related economic development.
Of central importance is ensuring surrounding growth doesn’t impede those other goals, which means coming up with tools such as prohibiting uses in airport areas that attract birds, create visual hazards or emit transmissions that interfere with aviation activities.
Underscoring that none of the policies discussed at the Nov. 19 meeting were set in stone, Qualls said prioritizing open space in the so-called lateral and inner critical zones is another such tool for use “if possible” in the areas immediately east and west of the airport and extending from the runway north into Ponderay and south into the northwest Sandpoint neighborhoods surrounding Farmin-Stidwell Elementary School and Great Northern, Centennial, Pinecrest Memorial and Travers parks.
Stop-gap zoning measures may also be considered in those areas to keep density from increasing, including not allowing accessory dwelling units in new or redeveloped properties, discouraging the clustering of homes, requiring disclosure statements regarding noise and other airport impacts for new or redeveloped properties, and an ordinance deterring zoning change requests that would increase density.
“We would not recommend anything too drastic,” Qualls said. “We wouldn’t recommend taking away existing property rights.”
That said, it was clear to planning commissioners that policies touching on what property owners could request in terms of zoning changes within those areas would be the most sensitive part of the plan — something city staff readily agreed with.
There is currently a moratorium on zone changes within the much larger airport overlay, which must be lifted by July 2020. That’s why, Qualls said, planners are working to expedite the comp plan process “to free up that moratorium well before you would be required to.”
“We don’t want to prohibit … that ability to apply for changes for any length of time more than we need to,” he said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will again consider the airport plan at a joint City Council workshop Wednesday, Dec. 4, followed by a P&Z public hearing Tuesday, Dec. 10, at which time commissioners could make a recommendation and ordinance change for consideration by the council. The council may make its final decision at its Wednesday, Dec. 18 meeting, which would include lifting the airport overlay moratorium.
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