Thursday, September 29, 2016

Work on Willis airstrip suspended: Attorney says runway project violates Camas County zoning

This rough overhead sketch shows the location of Bruce Willis’ private airstrip, Soldier Field Airport, about 10 miles east of Fairfield in Camas County. The runway is being built by Bellevue-based Sluder Construction and work should be completed by mid-October. 

Construction on a private airstrip near Fairfield has been halted after it was discovered that the project violated a county zoning ordinance.

Mike Grbic, property manager for movie star Bruce Willis, said in mid-September that Willis is building a dirt airstrip, Soldier Field Airport, about 10 miles east of Fairfield in Camas County.

But work on the 8,500-foot-long and 100-foot-wide airstrip was halted after Ketchum attorney Ben Worst notified Camas County Planning and Zoning Administrator Dwight Butlin that the airstrip site is on land zoned for agricultural use and that the airstrip would have negative impacts on adjacent neighbors, agriculture and wildlife habitat.

Worst is representing Dave Konrad, who lives and farms near the airstrip site.

Under the current Camas County zoning ordinance, only feedlots, employee housing, stockyards, nurseries and roadside stands can be built on land zoned for agricultural use.

Butlin issued a stop-work notice at the airstrip site Sept. 21, writing that “airports are not listed in the zoning ordinance as approved use in the Agricultural District.”

In mid-September, Butlin said in an interview that Camas County “does not regulate private airstrips under the current zoning ordinance.” He said that if the airport changes from private to public use, it would have to be properly zoned and obtain a conditional-use permit, and any further site development would have to be approved by the county.

Butlin declined to comment on the matter when reached Monday, as did Grbic.

Camas County Commissioners Barb McMurdo, Kenneth Backstrom and Ron Chapman could not be reached for comment as of press deadline Tuesday.

Butlin said the Camas County Planning and Zoning Commission is holding a public hearing on a new draft county zoning ordinance Tuesday, Oct. 4, at 7:15 p.m. in the Camas County Annex building, at 517 Soldier Field Road in Fairfield.

Under the new draft county zoning ordinance, “aircraft landing fields and airports” could be built on land zoned for agriculture under a conditional-use permit as long as they “will not have an adverse effect upon adjacent developed land.”

Butlin said that after public comment is taken Oct. 4, P&Z commissioners will deliberate on the matter and make recommendations to the Camas County commissioners.

Konrad said Monday that he and several neighbors have pooled resources to continue to have Worst represent them.

“It’s part of their duties as county officials to pay attention to land use,” he said. “We want to address the threat to the environment and quality of life for residents.”

Konrad said he and county residents support county government services through taxes and that county officials did residents a disservice by allowing construction to begin on the airport before public comment was taken.

Konrad expressed concerns that the private airstrip could one day be converted to a “full-size, commercial airport.”

Worst said Monday that the county comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances were designed with citizen input to “clearly protect agricultural land.”

In regard to the airstrip, he said, any changes to the comp plan and zoning ordinances would have to take place through a public process.

“The county officials have an obligation to explain why a runway 1,000 feet longer than the one at Friedman Memorial Airport is being built,” he said. “We hope to slow the [construction] process until we can have more public hearings and to make sure the project complies with the law.”

In a hand-delivered letter to Butlin dated Sept. 19, Worst wrote, “Mr. Konrad is concerned that dust, noise, vibrations, lights, etc. from the airport activities will interfere with his ranching and farming and his quality of life.”

He also wrote that the “airport in question will replace productive farmland with a landing surface on which one of these [agricultural] activities could be performed.”

Worst told Butlin in the letter that he would “pursue the matter to the fullest extent of the law including, without limitation, obtaining a Writ of Mandate to force the County to do its job and enforce its own laws” if the county failed to stop work at the airstrip site.


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