MENDON – The validity of a private airstrip permit in Mendon is up for debate in front of Cache County’s Board of Adjustments on August 15, but the owners of the property said they’ve done everything asked of them, and their neighbors are just trying to get rid of the airstrip all together.
Nathan and Rachel Holyoak obtained their conditional use permit for the airstrip northwest of Mendon in April 2016 after their neighbors had requested a legal process to authorize the airstrip. The strip had been used by the previous owner without any permit, and Rachel Holyoak said there had been tension with that prior owner as well.
“We tried to be good neighbors and went through the process they requested,” Holyoak said. “We’ve spent a lot of time and effort to make sure we’re above board and to make sure we have the right permits.”
The validity of that 2016 permit is what attorney Dan Dygert disputes, claiming the initial provisions in that permit were not met, and therefore the permit should be void. The permit states it shall be null and void unless the Holyoaks get a building permit, obtain a business license, or do substantial work within 12 months. Dygert claims none of these things were done within 12 months.
Holyoak, however, said the term “substantial work” is relative and up for interpretation.
“I feel like the neighbors were expecting massive construction and pavement poured and runway lights installed and a flight tower. But we’re just landing on the dirt that’s always been there. It was very clear in our letter of intent that the only indication will be the windsock. Our intent was never to do massive construction,” she explained.
The “substantial work” requested was on paper, said Holyoak. She said all paperwork was turned in to the FAA by December 2017 and they’ve been waiting on that process and expect to hear from them in the next few months.
Dygert has been retained by two neighbors who are formally appealing the planning commission’s decision. On June 6, Dygert took the dispute to the Cache County Planning and Zoning Commission, where the commissioners decided to let the Holyoak conditional use permit (CUP) stand as valid. Dygert is appealing that decision and the county will hear his argument in their Board of Adjustment meeting on August 15. Dygert said during that June 6 meeting over 40 people were present, but the planning commission wouldn’t hear from anyone.
“They just made a bad decision because they didn’t hear from us,” Dygert said.
The length of the airstrip is also a concern for neighbors, and should be a concern for the permit, said Dygert. He said the permit the county approved in 2016 was for a 1300-foot airstrip, but a year later a house was built to the north of the property so the county staff “just shortened it to 640 feet”.
“The county says if you make changes to a use permit, you have to go through the process again, but they didn’t. The county just changed the length and left the permit the same,” Dygert said.
Holyoak has a totally different perspective on what happened. She said they were working with the planning and zoning office to finalize a runway length that kept the safety zone inside their property boundaries. She said the same day she turned the final length into planning and zoning office for approval, the Stoker family applied for a building permit to build to the north of their property.
“Since that came in on the same day, the office told me about the building permit. They said we could finalize the runway based on action and then go back and adjust, or withdraw our submittal and take into account the building permit. So, we withdrew and turned in a new runway length that worked within the zone the council had outlined in our original action. The runway never was 1300 feet,” Holyoak explained.
The safety of such a short runway is one of the arguments Dygert said the planning commission didn’t consider when granting a permit for a 640-foot runway. “The county looked at the first page of the airport manual. Their ignorance of aviation is astonishing that they would just take what the manual said at face value.”
But Holyoak said the FAA is “very clear” that it is the pilot’s responsibility to make sure there’s enough runway to take-off and/or land.
“To have a person on the ground dictate if a runway is safe or unsafe, without any training, that’s not right,” she added. “It’s the pilot’s job to determine that. It could mean it’s safe one day and not the next.”
Dygert said the airstrip has not been used since it was shortened to 640 feet. “He’s a smart pilot. He knows he can’t land or take off with just 640 feet,” he added.
When asked about their usage of their airstrip over the last few years Holyoak declined to comment.
Dygert said their ultimate goal is to “make it go away.” He said one of his clients has already lost a sale because on paper it looks like there is an airport there.
“It’s just a hayfield, but if you’re looking to buy there, it looks like your property is just by an airport. There’s a reason the county very tightly controls development around Logan Airport. We need airports to be in the right place. This area is home to 20-acre lots. People go there for peace and quiet,” he said.
When asked what the impact of a listed “airport” does to the ability to sell land around them, Holyoak said there is more to that story that no one is talking about.
“No one has addressed the fact that one of the deterrents to the area we’re in is the dirt road. Cache County has some ordinances that you can’t get a building permit until the road is brought up to county standards, which includes pavement if it serves more than three houses. So, there are other factors that are limiting people to buy up there, and the airport is a scapegoat for not addressing some of those other realities and other ordinances of a lot more precedence,” she explained.
This board of adjustments meeting is Dygert’s attempt at appealing the permit, so he doesn’t have to take this matter to court.
“Procedurally and legally, we didn’t have to have this meeting. We wanted to give the county the ability to kill (the permit) and not go to court. But I’m not optimistic. If we lose, we’re going to court. I’m sitting in the planning commission meeting listening to them make a decision in complete ignorance and then refuse to hear the other side of the equation,” he said.
Holyoak said she believes in due process and hopes there can be “understanding.”
“We just want to be able to use our property. It’s an activity that has happened on that property for a lot of years. It’s not high use. We just want to be able to use it,” she said.
The August 15 meeting will be held at 199 North Main, Logan, UT in the Council Chambers.