Time has come to to put Leighton’s air park issue to rest

ACHTUNG: This is not a “fair and balanced” story. It is an editorial by the editor.

“Eighty percent of the people who show up at public meetings are there to bitch.” — David T. Young, writing on the newsroom chalkboard in 1985 at the Ypsilanti Press.

I’ve learned two very important things over the past two years covering the air park issue in Leighton Township — The controversy has gotten personal for more than a few and approval for the project has its proverbial back against the wall.

Kate Scheltema, who has a horse farm next to the site of the proposed air strip, was almost in tears Thursday night while describing how planes continue to fly over her property and spook horses and riders. This, despite the fact she has argued the site has fallen into non-conforming use since 2010 after Brian Martin and family abandoned it. Zoning Enforcement Officer Bob Jones of Professional Code Inspections has disagreed.

There was another instance of the personal not long ago when Township Treasurer Char Troost told air park opponents, “I feel like you guys hate my guts.”

The issue now will go to another public hearing of the Township Board at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 28, which promises to be nothing but yet another bitch session that merely delays the inevitable. That inevitable is my hunch that the proposal will not be approved.

It’s a matter of mathematics. The Planning Commission recommended 3-2 not to approve it last April. Supervisor Steve Deer has recused himself from discussions and voting because he is a partner in the project with developer Clark Galloway. This means three of the remaining four Township Board members must vote in the affirmative in order for it to be approved.

To be sure, Galloway has done a terrific job in scaling down his proposed air strip from accommodating as many as 25 planes and residences to just a 2,000-foot strip for use by five planes and just four residences, thereby cutting down on the residential impact and noise.

But, as I wrote in an editorial more than a year ago:

“I urge the Leighton Township Board and Planning Commission to deny a rezoning request to accommodate an air strip near 144th and Kalamazoo Avenues. My position is very similar to my opposition to legalizing fireworks. I don’t think it’s a good idea to shatter the public peace in order to satisfy the private personal wants of a few…

“I do not believe residents who move to rural and agricultural areas have a blank check in expecting them to remain pristine and bereft of the pitfalls of urban life. However, every American citizen should be able to expect certain enterprises and behaviors to be regulated so as to keep them away from those who could be harmed by them in some way.

“For example, if I move to a quiet, rural neighborhood, I would have a right to keep someone operating a dog kennel from moving in next door. Such noisy businesses should be zoned so they are permitted only in areas that make sense.

“An air strip privately owned indeed would be desirable to the people operating the five planes and living in the four homes, but the potential for noise to disturb horses and for fumes, dust and other unwanted conditions for neighbors would outweigh the pleasure of those fortunate enough to be wealthy enough to join the group…

“Furthermore, there is an air strip that has existed for a long time just north of Wayland, and it is home to ultralight planes and other small craft. Though the City of Wayland has owned the facility for many years, it would be a good idea for the developers and residents who want an air strip to somehow negotiate use of the Wayland Airport instead. It seems some kind of an agreement could be reached.”

This issue has proven the personal is political, but the bottom line is that a rural and agricultural area should be preserved against plans for the playground of the privileged, especially when other avenues are available within the same township.



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