The Leighton Township Board Wednesday in a special meeting put its final stamp of approval on a proposed air park near 144th and Kalamazoo Avenues by adopting a resolution and ordinance amendment.
The board again voted 4-0 to rezone, from rural residential to planned development, to accommodate a 2,000-foot air strip for use by seven planes, with four residences proposed by Galloway Landings. Developer Clark Galloway and Township Supervisor Steve Deer, who has recused himself from all public proceedings. They had their plans scaled down significantly since first proposed in November of 2015.
The board tentatively approved the air strip on a 4-0 two months ago, but took its final vote Wednesday night, formally ending two years of debate, deliberations and discussion.
The air park project has been greeted by plenty of vocal opposition from neighbors. The Planning Commission had voted 3-2 last April to recommend against approval for the development, but the Township Board has seen the issue differently.
Township Clerk Mary Lou Nieuwenhuis, when asked how the board could go against the Planning Commission’s wishes, publicly commented, “We do respect and appreciate the efforts of the Planning Commission. Their first vote was a tie and they struggled with this issue, as we have. But I don’t see where there was a clear direction from the Planning Commission.”
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.
Mark Ouwinga, one of the most persistent critics of the air park, even brought in a new twist by demonstrating a 90-decibel sound just outside the township hall’s windows, saying it would similar to the noise the planes in the park would generate in the park.
He then told board members, “I can’t imagine any of you are going to consider that reasonable inside your house. It’s like having a chainsaw three feet outside your window.”
Acknowledging Neuwenhuis’ information about more people supporting the park than opposing it, John Tymes said, “Public opinion matters, facts matter more… Property owners are supposed to be afforded some kind of reasonable protection.”
Kate Scheltema, who owns a horse farm near the strip, was unable to attend the meeting, but had a friend read her statement, essentially asking the board members, “What if you’re wrong (that the air park won’t cause noise and safety problems)? If you are wrong, you won’t have to suffer the consequences.”
Scheltema has long held that once the park is approved, it will be difficult, if not impossible, to have it removed if it negatively impacts the neighborhood.
Rita Martin, co-owner of the strip for more than four decades before Galloway proposed the project, told the board she and husband Bill used it and most folks didn’t even know it was a runway for airplanes.
But Nick Barlow, another vocal critic, replied, “We didn’t know about it because it was just one plane.”
After about 40 minutes of public comment, the board began deliberations with its planner and attorney on conditions for approval. The most important changes were:
• Elimination of lighting for the strip to discourage night flying and because it is cost prohibitive.
• Accommodations for no more than seven aircraft with hangars.
• Permission, with conditions, for visiting planes to use the strip.
• Provisions of insurance.
• Accommodations for medical helicopters to land, if necessary.
• The forbidding of any commercial aviation on site.
• The elimination or removal of the old strip owned by the Martins as soon as the new one is operating.
Once again, the 4-0 vote was the same as the tentative approval granted two months, with Supervisor Steve Deer abstaining and not even present.
COVER PHOTO: Air park developer Clark Galloway explains the project with this drawing.