Don Oblak has more questions than answers about a developer’s plans to revive Sky Ranch Airport in far northern San Juan County, and with more and more flights passing overhead each day, that concerns him.
The Spanish Valley resident and several of his neighbors called on the Grand County Council this week to work with its counterpart in San Juan County to learn more about the planned development.
“We’re hoping to find out more, and we’re hoping that Grand County will help us control or mitigate some of these impacts,” Oblak told the Moab Sun News.
San Juan County Planning and Zoning Subdivision Administrator Greg Adams said his office hasn’t formally received any development plans for the airport property off East Mt. Peale Drive, which Red Rock Partners, LLC owns.
But project representative Mike Bynum said the developers envision a residential, noncommercial facility that is governed by covenants that ensure private – and not public – use of the Sky Ranch property. The design includes plans for “very nice” residences and facilities – not metal hangars, he said.
“It is the intent that … it be for the residents who live there,” Bynum told the Grand County Council on Tuesday, Jan. 2. “It may be mainly people with planes, but we’ve actually anticipated and used the term ‘toy barns,’ because we think there are certain people who will want to have a facility for their recreational vehicles, which is fine, as well.”
Right now, the airport’s owners are allowing United Parcel Service (UPS) flights and emergency medical flights to come and go from Sky Ranch, during the official closure of Canyonlands Field Airport for a major runway construction project.
Sky Ranch’s owners were busy with their own construction project in the fall of 2017, replacing a deteriorating blacktop runway, Bynum said. The developers are still working on a survey of lots at the airport, he said, as well as covenants that will be applied to future property owners at Sky Ranch to ensure private use and noncommercial activity.
From farmland to homes below flight paths
Sky Ranch Airport used to be surrounded by farmland, and not much else, as recently as the 1990s. But as residential development has pushed south into Spanish Valley and across the San Juan County line, homes like the one that Oblak and his wife Denise built in 2011 began to pop up below the airport’s flight paths.
Don Oblak estimates that in the past, the airport was used three to five times a year. Many months would go by with little or no use – until recently, he said, when the couple started to see more airplane traffic, both over their house in the Blu Vista Casitas subdivision, and above U.S. Highway 191.
When Oblak first saw the preliminary site plan for the proposed development just over a mile away from his home, he was taken aback: It showed more than 70 homes on the property, as well as more than 50 hangars, both large and small.
“Right away, I went, ‘Oh my gosh,’” he told the county council. “This is not a small development.”
Karl Spielman – the airport’s immediate neighbor – lives on the San Juan County side of the valley. He said the preliminary site plan clearly conflicts with a county plan, which projects that southern Spanish Valley could eventually be developed into a community of 6,000 people, as new water and sewer infrastructure fuels growth across the county line.
“It’s really an inappropriate feature within this new urban area,” he told the Moab Sun News.
Airports, he said, are never situated in the middle of density, due to inherent noise and safety conflicts with residential neighborhoods.
“Even a scaled-back version of this is sort of tone-deaf to the community,” Spielman said.
As it is, though, Oblak said that many of his neighbors aren’t aware of the Sky Ranch project. Both he and Spielman think they – and county council members – should be, however, because air traffic patterns at the facility affect residents who live just across the Grand County line, as well as others to the north.
“We feel that Grand County does have the ability to weigh in on what’s happening here,” Oblak said.
“We want responsible oversight of this,” Spielman said. “We’re not trying to say that the developers can’t have what they’re thinking of, but there’s no restrictions on it right now.”
Oblak said that he and his wife are used to the occasional plane that might fly overhead.
“But that’s not what might be coming, from what we can tell,” he said.
In particular, they want to know whether the fueling station at Sky Ranch will be reserved for private use, or if it will be open to the public. They also hope to find out if Sky Ranch residents’ guests would be able to fly in and out of the airport, and if pilots could fly to potential nightly rentals on the property.
“If it’s limited to (a few) lots and it’s for private use only, we feel that helps to mitigate those noise, traffic and safety impacts it would bring,” Oblak said.
“If (Bynum) wants to put in a few lots and have people live with their airplanes, I’m not opposed to that,” Spielman added.
But with little public information to go on at this point – aside from the preliminary site plan that has been circulating among concerned neighbors – Spielman remains concerned about the order of magnitude in the change of use.
“It’s going to essentially be like a lot of things around Moab – a Wild West free-for-all – if there isn’t a parent or grown-up in charge, and San Juan County can’t be trusted on that yet,” he told the Moab Sun News.
Spielman told the county council that he doesn’t necessarily object to a small airport, and he said that Bynum has gone a long way toward allaying some fears.
“But in this general vacuum of knowledge, our worst fears are that there is nothing to stop Mr. Bynum or the developers from creating a heliport or anything else,” he said. “There’s nothing on paper – certainly not with San Juan County.”
While Spielman and others addressed the Grand County Council before they approached San Juan County commissioners, Grand County Council vice chair Curtis Wells encouraged them to reach out to officials to the south. He said he is concerned that the neighbors’ first action was to try to cultivate a working committee through Grand County.
“I think it’s going to be really helpful for a positive outcome to make sure and parallel track these presentations and formal outreach with all of the entities involved in it, especially San Juan County, and with the developer,” Wells said.
Bynum, for his part, vowed to keep the airport’s neighbors in the loop.
“I’m very willing to share all information about the development, and particularly get neighborhood input about the covenants that will be employed for that development,” he said.
He said he welcomes the involvement of officials from both Grand and San Juan counties.
“But, quite frankly, I’m most interested in actually meeting and talking with the neighbors,” Bynum said.
Developer pledges to work closely with nearby residents