Controversy has arisen over a conditional use permit for a private airstrip in Mendon.
Neighbors in opposition to the airstrip have said the permit’s conditions have not been met and that they are concerned about the safety, noise and environmental impacts an airstrip would have on them.
However, according to the owners of the airstrip, Rachel and Nathan Holyoak, planes have landed on their property for years. The only reason they need a permit is because of a request their neighbors made in the first place.
“We just want the ability to use the land. This is all our private property. We will make sure it is safe,” Rachel Holyoak said.
Holyoak said she and her husband purchased their Mendon property in 2011, but planes had landed in their field since 2006. She said no permits were originally required to do this, but at the request of her neighbors, she and her husband helped Cache County officials pass an ordinance in 2015 requiring permits for private airstrips like theirs.
“We felt like we want to be good neighbors, and if the neighbors want us to go through a process, we can do that,” Holyoak said.
In May of 2016, Nathan and Rachel requested a conditional use permit for a runway of 1,300 feet. The length of this runway would stretch across the entire Holyoak property with safety areas, object-free areas and runway protection areas falling in the airspace above neighboring properties.
These areas are required by the Federal Aviation Administration so that airplanes have space to ascend or descend before takeoff and landing, as well as to contain debris if a plane crashes.
Holyoak said county officials approved the permit but asked them to work with the planning and zoning staff to make some adjustments to the runway length. One adjustment included moving the runway safety areas and object-free areas to lie entirely on the Holyoak property. After this process was done, the finalized runway length was 640 feet.
A public hearing was held when the Holyoaks made their request in 2016, but one of the neighbors, Tina Howard, said she and her husband weren’t informed of it because they moved into their home just a few days before the meeting. She said both county staff and the previous property owners could have alerted them.
Howard said other neighbors were sent notice of the meeting in April on a weekend when many of them were out of town and that it only went to people within 300 feet of the Holyoak property, not the runway protection zone, which she believes it should have.
The lack of public comment that she feels occurred is one of the concerns she has with the runway.
“We weren’t notified of the meeting to have any say,” Howard said. “That was taken away from us.”
In addition to the concern regarding public comment, opinions differ on how the permit was impacted by the change in runway length. Holyoak said the adjustments were not made to the final permit and that when the permit was officially recorded in 2017, the runway length was 640 feet.
Dan Dygert, a lawyer hired by Howard and other neighbors, argues that the change in runway length is a change in the actual permit and should have led to the permit being reconsidered.
“You can’t address safety concerns of a 640-foot runway when it is 1,300 feet. So the public got no input on this,” Dygert said.
Dygert said he has done research on the length of runway needed to land a Cessna 182, the type of plane the Holyoaks own, and while 640 feet can technically accommodate the plane, that is only under very specific conditions. He is concerned about the wide range of conditions it doesn’t accommodate.
“You look at accident statistics. Fifty percent of general aviation accidents are on or around the runway. So that is a big deal to the neighbors,” Dygert said.
Holyoak said she and her husband are aware that a 640-foot runway does not accommodate their plane in as many conditions as the 1300 foot runway would. She said that is fine because they don’t plan on using it often, they just want the option.
“When you are flying, the pilot has to calculate his weight in CG every time. He has to calculate if density altitude is going to allow him to take off, all those things. On any given day, while five of the factors may be right, three may not, in which case you don’t fly,” Holyoak said.
According to Holyoak, the Cessna 182 is targeted to need 625 feet to land with full fuel and worst-case conditions at sea level.
“Then you have to account for the factors that aren’t at sea level, but you also have factors that aren’t full flaps, full planes, full passengers, full weight, full fuel, those kinds of things,” Holyoak said.
Holyoak said it is important to note that the Cessna 182 is the most demanding plane that would use the runway. At the discretion of the Holyoaks, the runway may also be used by their friends. Holyoak said the people she knows with helicopters and airplanes need less runway to land than the Cessna does.
“I don’t have any concerns about the shortened length. I understood the parameters I was agreeing to,” Holyoak said.
Another requirement of the conditional use permit is that it would expire after 12 months if substantial work on the project had not been completed.
Because nothing has changed in the field since the permit was issued, neighbors are arguing the permit should have expired. However, Holyoak said there never was a plan to build an official runway in the first place.
“I just want to land in my field on the dirt that has always been landed on,” Holyoak said.
According to Holyoak, they can land in the field even if there is alfalfa or grass growing. If it’s too tall, they will just cut it down a little before a plane comes in.
Technically Holyoak said, the runway is operational. She said she and her husband have filed paperwork with the FAA and are now waiting for the FAA to send the county the airport activation package so the process will be complete and they can receive the final permit necessary from the county.
Other airstrip concerns Howard said she has is that two neighbors have lost the sales of their homes because of it.
She also said that in the years since she has bought her home, the Holyoak plane has sometimes been flown excessively low by her property in what she said feels like a mockery of the situation. Because of these things, she said the airstrip is not fair for those who have to live near it.
“I would like to see conditional use permit nixed, voided, totally demolished. I don’t want to see it happen,” Howard said.
Howard said she also wants to see the county ordinance changed to require the owners of future airstrips to also own the runway protection zones.
Holyoak said she does not agree with this requirement because it is not even the standard for municipal airports.
Throughout this situation, Holyoak said her biggest frustration is the lack of communication between her family and their neighbors. She said she is willing to work through their fears, but no one has come to her.
“I wish they would knock on the door,” Holyoak said.
Dygert said he has filed an appeal to the County Planning Commission’s decision to let the permit stand and that it is currently scheduled to come before the county’s board of adjustments on July 18 at 6 p.m.