Monday, February 06, 2012

Sheffield, Massachusetts: Resident challenges airstrip ban

The president of a prominent local business is engaged in a land dispute over the use of a private landing strip at his residence.

John R. Hanlon, Jr., of Galvin Farm Trail, has appealed a cease and desist order issued by the zoning enforcement officer last November for his operation of a private restricted landing area in the rural zone. The ruling cites the town’s bylaws, which ban any uses not expressly allowed, including airstrips. The Zoning Board of Appeals is expected to rule on the appeal on Tuesday.

Hanlon is president of Canaan, Conn.-based Housatonic Railroad Co., a freight rail operator with lines connecting Pittsfield and Danbury, Conn.; and Shelton, Conn. and Beacon, N.Y. The company also is researching the possibility of extending passenger rail service between Pittsfield and New York City.

Hanlon has used the airstrip for his personal use since 2006, for occasional and sporadic takeoffs from the 1,250 foot runway, according to Hanlon’s attorney, Alexandra Glover. The runway is safety approved and registered with the Massachusetts Aeronautical Commission.

Thomas Carmody, building commissioner and zoning enforcement officer, also said in his order that the use of an airstrip does not constitute an accessory use for his residence -- a claim Glover disputes.

Glover also contends the town’s bylaws can’t prohibit aircraft use because any bylaw or regulation pertaining  to aviation uses has to first be approved by the Massachusetts Aeronautical Commission.

"That permission has to be given for the towns to have that power, because aviation transportation is an area that is pre-empted," said Glover.

Glover said flying is simply Hanlon’s hobby and the runway also has limits, adding, "It would be impossible to land or take off in larger planes from this grassy strip."

Susan Butler, of Shunpike Road, is an abutter who has been opposing Hanlon’s airstrip for years. She says it’s not about the size of the aircraft or frequency of the flights.

"It violates our zoning bylaw and that’s kind of it, if you really narrow it down," said Butler.

She also says there are safety issues, with the plane taking off just over the tree line on her property. 

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