City to Update Comprehensive Plan After Joint Meeting with Towns

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Kevin Murphy

MIDDLETON–The Middleton Airport Commission last week delayed recommending updated language to the city’s Comprehensive Plan until the Common Council can meet with the Town of Middleton and Town of Springfield on Middleton Municipal Airport-Morey Field issues.

As part of the city’s required 10-year update to the Comprehensive Plan, City Planner & Zoning Administrator Mark Opitz presented language regarding the airport which was criticized for lessening concern for the airport’s impact on its neighbors.

The 2006 Comprehensive Plan recognizes the increased air traffic and the city’s need to monitor the airport so it operates “as safely and efficiently as possible while at the same time minimizing potentially negative impacts on nearby properties.”                

The proposed language presented to the Commission on Aug. 6 eliminates minimizing potentially negative impacts and promotes the airport’s role in economic development.

It read:

“Continue to plan for and operate Middleton Municipal Airport-Morey Field in a manner that supports regional economic development, maximizes financial self-sufficiency, and serves as an attractive gateway to the community.”

Cynthia Richson, Town of Middleton Chair, asked the commission to retain the original language’s balance approach between safe and efficient operation and minimizing negative impacts.

Richson, who was a commission member until June, also said the proposed language is inconsistent with last year’s US Department of Transportation’s Report to Congress that states airports should be compatible with “surrounding communities, maintaining a balance between the needs of aviation, the environment, and the requirements of residents.”

Using the three minutes the commission allows each speaker at the start of each meeting, Richson asked that the language not be changed until the Common Council meets with the Towns of Middleton and Springfield at 7 p.m. Aug. 20.

Commission Chair John Hallick said he agreed with the intent of minimizing negative impacts on surrounding properties but asked how it would be measured or analyzed.

“(Federal Aviation Administration) regulations and standards dictate how we operate. We fulfill our obligations to the FAA by doing that,” he said.

Commission member Kevin Munson said he couldn’t support the proposed language without the city producing a compatible land use plan.

“We’ve told the FAA we’d have one, and we absolutely need a compatible land use plan. We can’t proceed with a Master Plan without one or (move) forward with the Comprehensive Plan,” Munson said.

He also said the city needs “to stick with the runway size, We’d be sued if we change it.”

At the time the city was considering purchasing the airport from Richard Morey, the Common Council passed a resolution to keep the runway 4,000 feet long and “that’s a contract,” Munson said.

Opitz said he doesn’t consider the resolution to be contract, just a resolution but didn’t want to fully address that situation now.

Amending the proposed language to include minimizing negative impacts on nearby properties while maintaining FAA standards was acceptable to Hallick.

He favored completing the Airport Master Plan and then see if there is funding for a Compatible Land Use Plan. He also said the city and the towns should agree to a land use plan that considers the airport’s impacts.

Morey said the airport is operating under more stringent plans than the FAA requires.

“You can’t fly out of this airport without flying over someone’s home,” he said alluding to noise complaints he receives.

He said there was “nothing solid” about “minimizing negative impacts,” in the current Comprehensive Plan.

“The airport will operate as an airport,” he said.

Munson, however, wasn’t through stressing the importance of the Compatible Use Plan.

“We don’t have that. If you don’t understand that, you don’t know aviation. You must show what’s compatible around airports and what’s not. I don’t know how Middleton and Dane County got along for 40 years without that. We signed a federal contract to have one...Why city planners haven’t done this yet is mind boggling,” he said.

Munson said he has contacted an attorney about the issue and doesn’t want to be complicit in violating any federal regulations. Instead, the court will have to decide what’s required or not.

In a final shot at Opitz, Munson, said, “Mark, you’re not attorney, you don’t determine (what constitutes) contracts.”

The commission agreed to wait for the outcome of the city/towns joint meeting and offer their feedback on the Comprehensive Plan at a later date.

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