Thursday, September 26, 2013

New airstrip proposed for Eloy planning area - Arizona

In an August work session, the Eloy City Council had an opportunity to take a position on a proposed airstrip that will require a major comprehensive plan amendment through Pinal County.

Larry Hill , owner of Airborne Support Group, affiliated with Skydive Arizona, is involved in submitting the request to the County, and as a part of that process, Pinal County provides a 60-day review period to municipalities or others who may be impacted by the change in planned land use.

The seller of the property, Outer Ring, LLC, has requested that the land use designation be changed from “Very Low Density Residential” to “Secondary Airport.” The site is about 10 miles south of Interstate 10 and about 5-6 miles south of Arizona City and west of Sunland Gin Road.

Shawn Hill, representative for Airborne Support Group, and Planner Jackie Guthrie clarified that the plans are for an airstrip and not an airport.

After hearing a report about the project from Community Development Director Harvey Krauss, the Council stated their approval of the change in land use of the property that is adjacent to the city and within the city of Eloy’s Planning Area. The city of Eloy sent a letter to Pinal County stating their approval, which also included Eloy’s expectations and concerns about the proposed project.

The airstrip operators expect from 20-100 flights per month for the facility, which has a 35,400-foot runway on a 243-acre site. The facility will handle overflow from their military parachute training business currently taking place at the Eloy Municipal Airport.

Some of the City’s concerns included the impact on the Eloy Municipal Airport airspace, and competition with the city’s airport. In addition the city was concerned about FAA and ADOT feedback, as well as any concerns of adjacent landowners, impact on future development and noise and air quality levels.

Planner Jackie Guthrie and Shawn Hill assured the Council that the facility would not be in competition for FAA grant funds since it will be a private facility. In addition, they explained that it should not affect Eloy airspace or flights coming in or out of Casa Grande or Coolidge.

Guthrie also clarified that the “public will not be allowed to land on this airstrip,” she said. In addition, Guthrie said that plans call for fencing the property.

Council members Etta Ruth Amerson and J.W. Tidwell encouraged the City to approve of the project, Tidwell saying that “If it is going to bring new revenue, go for it.” Amerson added that she didn’t like to see government “stymie private business.”

Planner for Airborne Support Group Jackie Guthrie agreed with the Council that this could bring “additional” business to Eloy. “They are very successful at doing their parachute drops, and in addition to that they have some agreements with the military to do training,” she said. “That’s why they want the overflow strip—to keep building the business.”

The process for obtaining a Major Comprehensive Plan Amendment from the County is a long one, however. The initial application was filed in May, then the 60-day review process for other agencies was followed by a Citizen Advisory Committee review that makes a recommendation to the Pinal County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The Commission met on Sept. 19 and recommended approval of the re-designation from “Very Low Density Residential” to “Secondary Airport.” Ashley MacDonald, Planner II for Pinal County said that it was a unanimous vote to approve the request and that other than a few general questions, the process was “pretty smooth.”

The next step is a Public Hearing of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors on Oct. 9 to approve, deny, or continue the request. If the Board of Supervisors approves it, MacDonald said, “they still have to come back through and get a special use permit.”

At that point, the City as well as the County will have an opportunity to get more detailed answers to questions about the planned operations. Comprehensive Major Plan Amendments are addressed only once per year.

Currently Airborne Support Group is using a twin-engine turbo prop. Guthrie said that since Sunland Gin Road is paved past the site and electric goes right past the site, she doesn’t anticipate any off-site improvements. “It all depends on what the county requires,” she said. Noise studies, site improvements or any other issues will be addressed during the Special Use Permit process, she added.

“They’re still a ways away from actually operating out there,” MacDonald said.

Airborne Support Group hopes to have the airstrip operational “by this time next year,” Hill said. The purpose of the facility is “to accommodate the future growth of Skydive Arizona,” he added.

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