Airport board asks county for buffer zone

MINDEN - Douglas County leaders will soon consider a policy to protect Minden-Tahoe Airport from new neighbors.

County Operations Manager Jim Braswell, who oversees the airport, said the topic was broached earlier in the year by Federal Aviation Administration officials, who want assurance the airport will always be surrounded by compatible land uses.

That boils down to keeping houses at bay, Braswell said.

"One of the specifics is to really take a look at individual or single-family dwellings. They're not compatible with airports," said Braswell. "The rest of it is just protecting the (runway) approaches."

The FAA recommends establishing a one-mile radius for airport-friendly land uses, such as industrial operations. The county's current master plan designates the land south of the airport for agriculture and the land to the east for forest and range uses, both with a maximum density of one house per 19 acres.

The areas to the north and west are reserved for industrial uses, said Mimi Moss, the county economic development and planning manager.

Moss said the proposed policy could take the form of an airport overlay zone that would be incorporated into the master plan, but a decision hasn't been made.

Braswell said airport users are mostly interested in a formal guideline that addresses the issue should development be proposed near Minden-Tahoe.

"There's a large amount of acreage in transition. They could zone it just about anything," said Braswell. "This way it's a guideline for staff when they look at planning decisions."

A separate, but related suggestion by the airport advisory committee involves reviewing noise generated by different types of aircraft.

A seven-member airport advisory committee unanimously recommended the policy Nov. 16, and the Douglas County Planning Commission will consider it in December. The county commission would have final approval.

The county now has a voter-imposed weight limit of 50,000 pounds for multi-wheeled planes that use the airport, with lower limits for different types of craft. But larger planes aren't necessarily the noisiest, and Braswell said the airport committee thinks a review might be in order.

The group has asked the county to establish a seven-member ad hoc committee to research potential community support for a noise ordinance.

"We're not proposing a noise ordinance. That's not (the airport committee's) purview," said Braswell. "What prompted all this was when we started looking at the zoning policy, it was suggested we look at this too and determine if the real concern is the noise or the (size of) the airplanes."

Allowing larger planes might expand tourism and economic development for the county, but Braswell said it's an issue residents should decide.

"We're not going to be a Reno-Tahoe International Airport. We never will," said Braswell. "But I think there's going to have to be a lot of community input. It would mean they would need to have experts who are credible to say 'here are the options' and then the community comes up with recommendations on the noise issue."

Any eventual change in plane weights would have to go before voters, but before that ever happens, the county commission would have to establish the exploratory committee. That isn't likely to happen before January, Braswell predicted.


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