In The News

County airport hotel ban removed

Land Use Commission settles suit by developer over resort project in flight path at Sonoma County Airport

July 3, 2001

By BOB NORBERG Press Democrat Staff Writer

The Sonoma County Airport Land Use Commission dropped its ban on hotels within a safety zone near its runways Monday night, part of a settlement of a suit filed by a hotel developer.

The commission voted 5-2 for the settlement, allowing the construction of Trendwest Resorts, a resort being proposed by a Redmond, Wash., company on Shiloh Road in Windsor. The site is within a mile of the end of a runway at the Charles M. Schulz-Sonoma County Airport.

The action caps three years of conflict over airport land use that included a rare show of political muscle by county supervisors, who by unanimous vote removed two land-use commission members in April who supported tightening building restrictions. Supervisors said the move was necessary to head off costly litigation provoked by the commission's efforts to curb growth around airports.

The disputed area is part of the Airport Business Center, adjacent to the Windsor Golf Club. It is within an airport safety zone where aircraft would be taking off and landing at altitudes of 150 feet over buildings that are at least 30 feet high.

Guidelines adopted in January by the Airport Land Use Commission for that land restricted density up to three miles from the airports and barred such uses as hotels and motels.

Commissioner Ron Price, who opposed dropping the ban, said the restrictions are based on state guidelines and "are to reduce the public exposure to noise and safety hazards."

Price also said that UC Berkeley statistics show the highest risk for aircraft landing and taking off are within a mile of the end of a runway.

The developer, Richard Coombs, however, contended the guidelines went beyond state rules, which don't expressly prohibit hotels and motels.

The land-use commission was sued by the developer, who claimed the guidelines were prepared without an environmental impact report.

Trendwest would be an 11-acre resort of eight, three-story time-share units with a lodge, pools, spas and sports center.

Pilots said Monday the particular runway is used 40 percent of the time and handles the heaviest aircraft, including California Department of Forestry's air tankers.

Pilot Allan Anderson said planes would travel over the resort at altitudes of between 150 and 200 feet as they approach the airport.

He also said any plane taking off from the adjacent runway would need to circle over the project if it experienced problems and had to make an emergency landing.

The commission's vote reverses its ban against motels and hotels for the airport runways at Sonoma County, and also at five smaller airports in Petaluma, Cloverdale, Healdsburg and Sonoma.

The commission also agreed to a slightly smaller density for the Trendwest project. Trendwest attorney Les Perry said the project would be scaled back from 236 units to 226 and the suit would be dropped.

The settlement still requires the approval of Sonoma County Superior Court. The project also needs the approval of the town of Windsor.