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Leighton Twp. Board finally approves air park proposal

After nearly two years of debate, discussion, painstaking deliberations and wailing and gnashing of teeth, the Leighton Township Board finally gave tentative approval Monday night to a proposed air park near 144th and Kalamazoo Avenues.

The board voted 4-0 to tentatively approve a rezoning, from rural residential to planned development, to accommodate a 2,000-foot air strip for use by five planes, with four residence  proposed by Galloway Landings. Developer Clark Galloway and Township Supervisor Steve Deer, who recused himself from proceedings. They  had their plans scaled down a great deal since first proposed in November of 2015.

The proposals have been met a firestorm of protests and Planning Commission and Township Board meetings and even a court case. The Planning Commission had voted 3-2 last April to recommend against approval for the development.

Those who support the air strip maintain it would be an economic asset to the community. Those opposed insist it would cause noise and safety problems.

The new Township Hall was packed to the gills with standing room only for the special public hearing. The meeting also was attended by two attorneys for the township, the township’s planner, zoning enforcement officer Kirk Scharphorn of Professional Code Inspections and even a court reporter.

Resident Nick Barlow asked township officials how much taxpayers had to pick up the tab for having so many professionals, but Clerk Mary Lou Nieuwenhuis responded by saying, “This issue is very important to the applicant, to the surrounding neighborhood and to the township.”

Deer was not present, but Galloway spoke briefly about his scaled-back project, telling board members, “i am prepared to do whatever is legally necessary for me to abide by your decision.”

But Kate Scheltema, perhaps the most outspoken opponent of the project, reiterated that she has grave concerns about the safety of nearby residents, adding that another huge problem is that if the rezoning is approved, the township will lose control of the air park’s aviation activities, which then will be overseen by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

Township Attorney Clifford Bloom confirmed that the township will lose control of what the planes do, but still can control the land.

“The township doesn’t have any control of the flights once they (the planes) leave the ground,” Bloom said. “We cannot guarantee any contract to enforce restrictions on flights.”

“So I and my neighbors are stuck with the noise and nuisance,” replied Luann Neuhoff. “That’s very alarming to me.”

Scheltema has long been critical of planes flying over her horse farm and spooking animals.

Dave Zylstra insisted that a pilot of a plane using the current air strip was only 50 feet above his house, calling as dangerous as “an SUV traveling 80 miles an hour within 50 feet of your children.” His wife, Jane, insisted that the plane did not get above the trees.

Barlow said there is a video of a plane going only about 30 feet above Scheltemas’ barn.

Wolfgang Grotendriek, the pilot in question, disputed the assertions.

“I follow all air strip guidelines,” he said. “At no point am I within 30, 50 or 75 feet of houses… I’m doing whatever I can not to cause any problems.”

Mrs. Dykstra also took issue with the assertion that noise problems with the planes are minimal and no louder than lawn mowers.

Though most of the people who attended the meeting were there to express opposition, Nieuwenhuis noted the board had received only 27 written communications against the project, but 82 in favor.

Township Planner Andy Moore walked board members through all of the conditions that were required to be met in order for approval to be granted. All four board members present unanimously agreed that all conditions were satisfied.

Moore said he struggled with the question of whether Galloway’s project is compatible with neighboring residents, but, “I think Mr. Galloway has attempted to integrate this project with the neighborhood as much as possible.”

The most important conditions were that the air park is consistent with the rural residential character of the area, that the neighborhood adjacent is afforded sufficient protections, that the process before deciding took everything into account, including traffic, water drainage, the environment, soil erosion, property values and a variety of other considerations, and that it is generally compatible with rural residential and agriculture within the district.

Nieuwenhuis said, “It seems there has been an air strip (at that site) for many years and it seems compatible.”

Scheltema later took issue with the comment, insisting the air strip had fallen into disuse for more than six years since 2010.

Scheltema’s parting shot to the board was, “The decision actually was not a surprise. But I heard a lot of I don’t knows’ tonight… We invited you to come out and see our property. You couldn’t understand it if you didn’t experience it.”

PHOTO: A large group of citizens, standing room only, appeared at the Leighton Township Hall Monday night for the special public Hearing.

 

 

 

 

4 Comments

  • We’ve heard both sides and the Air Park is now reality – accept it and move on. That airstrip was there for years before any development ever existed. The Leighton Township Board finally did the right thing.

  • Keeping up with the entire air park debate starting with an attempted quiet approval complete with the legally required announcement in the backpages of The Penesee Globe in 2015 to its final 4-0 approval with the township supervisor having to recuse himself due to conflict of interest throughout the process has been fascinating.

    There are 15,300 FAA cerified private pilots in MI in 2017. (There were 7.48M voters registered in MI in Oct 2016) From the outside looking in it appears the development’s principals got 50% of what they wanted through a battle of attrition and the township board finally agreed with part a statistically select group who will live there.

    The idea that the air park will be an economic asset is puzzling at best. There is a high end subdivision just north of the new air park along with homes to the west and south. Another development of high end homes that didn’t have a 2000 ft landing strip and had more than 4 single family residential would have added more to the township revenue long term. I don’t see the addition of the air park and what goes with it adding to the tax value of the existing adjacent homes that will be losing what was their pastoral setting.

    • Mr. Couchman, thanks for the post… read my previous comment – it’s over, time to get on with life. I’m sure in a year or two nobody will remember it, with the exception of those closely involved.

      • The air park will be forgotten if the township tax assessor is willing to ignore the presence of the air park and keep property assessments of adjacent residential properties artificially low which would essentially be underwriting the air park.

        Leighton Township hasn’t been Green Lake and some homes on agricultural zoned land for over a decade. When the previous air field existed homes valued in excess of $400,000 were lakefront. That’s no longer the case .

        It’s time to go on with life until you are one of one of the adjacent properties selling a home and planes are taking off or landing while prospective buyers are viewing the home or challenging the increase in assessment based on the idea the air park is adds value.

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