Sunday, June 19, 2005
Planners might ground airport
Its owner, pilots blame development for bid to close field.
By Sandy Louey
The Sacramento (CA) Bee
A Cessna 150 takes off from the Elk Grove Airport, flying over Keith Cossairt’s hangar toward Grant Line Road.
Airplanes landing and departing have been a common sight since the small airport opened in 1934. But that may cease if the Sacramento County Project Planning Commission on Monday refuses to renew the airport’s use permit, as recommended by the planning staff. Pilots and others are fighting the denial recommendation, saying the airport, formerly called Sunset Skyranch, is a community asset being pushed aside in favor of development.
But others contend the airport is too close to development to be safe.
Both the city of Elk Grove and Elk Grove Unified School District have sent letters to the county about the airport’s effect on an elementary school planned within two miles of its runway. The school district says it won’t build the school if the airport’s use permit is renewed.
Pilots store about 60 planes in about 30 corrugated metal hangars at the 80-acre airport just outside Elk Grove city limits in unincorporated Sacramento County. About a dozen flights use the 2,780-foot-long runway to take off each day. The pilots are split almost evenly between aviation enthusiasts and those using it for business purposes, Cossairt said.
Airport owner Daniel Lang, an attorney living in Oregon, disagrees with the county planning staff’s recommendation not to allow continued operations.
“That is a recommendation that’s driven by developers seeking to increase the density of development in Elk Grove,” said Lang. “That’s inconsistent with one of the original goals, which is to preserve the rural character of Elk Grove.”
He said Elk Grove residents, not the county, should determine the airport’s fate.
In November, the Cosumnes Community Planning Advisory Council voted 4-2 to recommend renewal of the airport’s permit for a five-year period. The permit expired in October.
But, the county planning staff recommends that the county planning commission reject the request, saying that operating an airport no longer makes sense in the increasingly urban area.
The airport’s next-door neighbor, Dale Mahon, agreed Wednesday, saying the homes that have sprouted up in the area raise safety concerns.
“A lot of things were compatible in the past that we couldn’t do now,” Mahon said.
Elk Grove Unified spokesman Jim Elliott said district officials had to contend with the airport flight-path issue when they were looking at potential school sites for the district’s eighth middle and high school complex, which ended up being built at Bond and Bradshaw roads.
Increasing recognition of the airport’s incompatibility with development was part of the reason Sacramento County supervisors renewed its last use permit for only five years, said Sheryl Lenzie, a county planner.
Cossairt, who serves as treasurer for the Sunset Skyranch Pilots Association, said he and other pilots will go to court, if needed, to keep the airport open.
“We’re willing to make any changes to stay here,” said Cossairt, who lives in Elk Grove.
He said the association, which has about 60 members, sent letters to about 3,500 east Elk Grove residences recently, stating that the airport’s closure “would open the door for uncontrolled development of east Elk Grove.”
Five years ago, the closest homes west of the airport were about two miles away. Now, they’re about half a mile away, Cossairt said.
If the Elk Grove Airport closed, pilots would have to look for another airport – something they don’t relish because of the unavailability, costs and restrictions associated with other small airports in the area.
“There’s just no place to go,” said Howard Mugleston of Carmichael, who has been using the Elk Grove Airport since 1972.
Lang said his airport has been used for community events and emergency preparedness drills, and by numerous law enforcement and military groups for practice and rescue operations over the years at no charge.