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Land-use zoning near airport eyed

BAY CITY -- Future development near Red Wing Regional Airport is drawing interest from a newly formed joint airport zoning board.

The board, comprised of 16 members and a chairperson from entities affected by the airport, is exploring options for officially zoning the area rather than running under a conditional use permit.

In Wisconsin, the Towns of Hartland, Isabelle and Trenton as well as the Village of Bay City each have two representatives on the board, along with Pierce County. From Minnesota, Wacouta Township, Red Wing and Goodhue County have representatives.

Melissa Underwood said her employer, Short Elliot Hendrickson, has been hired to help deal with zoning in the area surrounding the airport.

"The Red Wing Airport is one of the last in Minnesota not to have this zoning," she said, explaining the zoning is required by Minnesota statute. The complications arise because while the airport is Minnesota-run, it is physically located in Wisconsin, which doesn't have the same requirements.

Currently, zoning only addresses height limitations, Underwood said. Noise would be another example of the kind of issues to be considered. But there are no plans for airport expansions or accommodating bigger aircraft in the immediate future, she said.

The land-use zoning is the next step following an update to the master plan for the airport, done in 2008, Underwood said. That plan projects expectations over 20 years.

The new board intends to meet every other month, she said, and if the process proceeds smoothly it could last about a year. Some hearings will be held because "the city wants to be open to the public."

"Right now, we're just getting to know each other," she said, indicating the board had a kick-off session on Oct. 27.

Pierce County Zoning Administrator Jim Kleinhans, also a representative on the board, said last week he understands the city would like to introduce an overlay zone ordinance -- which would be more restrictive -- in the airport area. While height and density restrictions are already in place within a three-mile radius, this Minnesota-originated ordinance would go further.

"It has definite negatives for Pierce County residents," he said.

More homes and businesses would be impacted, especially industries, the zoning administrator said. Acknowledging no immediate expansion proposals exist, he said he was aware of an eventual possibility the airport runway could be lengthened from its present 5,000 feet to 7,000 feet. Zoning for that could lead to restrictions the neighborhood, particularly commercial operations and their government hosts, may oppose.

"They don't like us picking at their tax base," he said, noting that people from Trenton are still sensitive over floodplain restrictions imposed in the 1990s, for instance.

Wisconsin also has a statute applying to land-use zoning near airports, Kleinhans said. He recently learned State Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, is promoting legislation to "tweak" this law.