Council rejects Planning Commission recommendation and moves to adopt a mixed-use airport zone

The Scappoose City Council by a 5-2 decision Tuesday agreed to add a new zoning distinction that would allow for residential homes and industrial uses to exist side-by-side at Scappoose Industrial Airpark.

Councilors Larry Meres and Charles Judd voted against the idea. After some rework of the proposed zoning ordinance, a second hearing and vote is planned for Feb. 19 to ratify the decision.

Sierra Pacific Communities, the Tigard-based company that has already invested around $3 million in infrastructure around the airport, applied for the comprehensive plan amendment to include the new zone, called a mixed-use airport zone.

The city's adoption of the zone is important for Sierra Pacific as the company continues its exploration of a residential airpark concept for the airport. Residential airparks are a type of housing subdivision that, as well as having front lawns and garages, will also have personal aircraft hangers and a communal taxiway to the nearest airport, in this case Scappoose Industrial Airpark.

Sierra Pacific would have to file a future application to change an estimated 70 acres currently zoned for industrial use near the airport over to the mixed-use airport zone.

If successful, the company could then section off that portion of its landholdings around the airport for construction of a residential airpark.

The city's decision to adopt the new zone runs counter to the unanimous opinion of the Planning Commission that such a zone should not exist and the city's own staff report, which recommended denial of the application.

Mayor Scott Burge said the council is in the position to set the tone on a number of growth-related topics, including allowing an open exploration of the residential airpark concept.

'I think that discussion needs to go forward, and this is a good way for it to go forward,' Burge said.

Responding to what he perceives as pressure put on the Port of St. Helens by the Federal Aviation Administration, which has come out strongly opposed to the residential airpark concept, Burge said he hopes the vote also sends a message to the federal agency to allow communities the courtesy of self-determination.

While the FAA has repeatedly stressed to the Port Commission that support of the residential airpark concept could compromise the Port's federal airport grant assurances, Port Executive Director Gerry Meyer said he does not believe the FAA's position amounts to pressure on the Port.

'We do not feel bullied by the FAA, we don't feel that pressure,' Meyer said. 'We think they have valid concerns.'

Some of the federal agency's concerns regarding residential airparks include compromised airport security and the loss of airport control to the adjacent homeowners.

The Port controls what off-airport tenants, business or otherwise, can access the airport runway via its through-the-fence permitting system. As such, the residential airpark idea will fail to carry serious weight unless the Port has a change of heart on the matter.

Burge said he would not vote in favor of a zone change for Sierra Pacific if the Port continues to voice its opposition to airpark residential development.

'If the Port says no to residential through-the-fence access, I won't vote to allow a zone change to that zoning,' Burge said.

Meres, who ran unopposed in the November 2006 campaign on a platform he said was aimed at controlling growth, said he opposed the decision largely because it conflicts with Sierra Pacific's original declarations to use to the property for industry and job growth. Also, he said Sierra Pacific's vision for how a residential airpark would fit next to the airport is incomplete.

'The thing that bothered me the most is that [Sierra Pacific] wanted this in the toolbox, but they haven't given us any definite ideas,' Meres said.

Though there has been a run of bad blood between the Port and Sierra Pacific over the residential airpark concept, Meyer said there is nothing personal between his staff and Sierra Pacific and that he continues to look forward to working with the privately owned company.

'We continue to want a lot of the same things that Sierra Pacific wants, and that is we want industrial development at the airport,' he said. 'We support what the other businesses have done out there, but we don't feel that residential is the answer.'

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