Tie vote grounds airstrip for now

Kurt Schleter speaks at a Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting about the private grass airstrip he wants to put on property he owns on Thursday, Oct. 28. (Mitchell Kirk | Daily Reporter)

HANCOCK COUNTY — A tie vote continued consideration of a contentious proposal for a private grass airstrip another month, when hopefully enough officials will be available to break the stalemate.

Kurt Schleter is seeking the airstrip on a property of about 70 acres he owns at 1323 N. County Road 300W. The site is north of the Sugar Creek Valley Estates neighborhood and west of Stone Ridge, where Schleter lives. His airstrip would be about 2,200 feet long and about 150 feet wide. He’d use it to take off and land his single-engine aircraft, which he’d also like to keep in a hangar he’d build on the property.

But nearby residents say the strip would be too close to the hundreds of homes in the area and are concerned about issues like safety, noise, effects on property values and proximity to above-ground power lines.

The site has an agricultural zoning designation, which requires a special exception from the Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals for an airstrip.

Attendees packed the Hancock County Annex for the board hearing Thursday night, including supporters of Schleter’s request wearing orange T-shirts saying “Support the strip.”

The board voted 2-2 on the special exception, with Michael Long and Merle McRoberts in favor and Byron Holden and Renee Oldham against. Dee Carmichael was not present.

“I think that this is just one of those unique situations where the success of this is going to be how you live with your neighbors,” if the airstrip is approved, Long told Schleter.

Zoning board members consider several criteria on ballots when contemplating special exceptions. Holden’s ballot indicated he feels the airstrip could be dangerous and unpleasant to other properties or people.

Oldham’s ballot reflected the same, and also indicated she feels the airstrip wouldn’t be consistent with the surrounding area.

Hancock County’s planning department recommends against allowing the airstrip.

“We don’t think that there’s any issues with the appearance or the safety or that; the biggest issue that staff sees and the reason that staff proposes an unfavorable recommendation is that development in this area is growing,” said Larry Strange, the county’s deputy planning director. He referred to the 13,000 new homes projected for western Hancock County in the coming years.

Schleter currently flies out of Indianapolis Regional Airport near Mt. Comfort.

“It’s a retirement project,” he said of his desired airstrip. “I want to build a hangar, I want to hang out there, and occasionally I want to fly.”

Harold Gibson of Greenfield-based H. Gibson Land Surveying represents Schleter in his zoning case. Gibson pointed to existing airstrips in the county, the scarcity of accidents on or near them, and the multitude of developments near them, like Frost Field, which is near Greenfield-Central High School, the Hancock County Public Library and numerous homes.

“History and experience tells us it’s not a problem,” Gibson said.

Several attendees spoke out against the proposal. Kathy McCarter, who lives near the site of the propsed airstrip, expressed safety concerns over having a runway nearby.

“Takeoffs and landings are where you’re going to get your accidents, and we’re in the front lines of that,” she said.

The matter is continued to the zoning board’s next meeting, which is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2 at the county annex, 111 American Legion Place.

The Federal Aviation Administration has reviewed Schleter’s proposal and does not object. If the county board of zoning appeals approves, the Indiana Department of Transportation would then consider its approval.

If you go 

WHAT: Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals meeting

WHEN: 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 2

WHERE: Hancock County Annex, 111 American Legion Place, Greenfield

WHY: The board will consider a special exception to allow a private grass airstrip on agricultural land at 1323 N. County Road 300W