CLEARED FOR TAKEOFF: County OKs private grass airstrip by thin margin

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HANCOCK COUNTY — Officials narrowly approved a contentious proposal for a private grass airstrip after a tie vote on the first attempt last month.

Kurt Schleter is planning 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 is planned to be about 2,200 feet long and about 150 feet wide. He intends to use it to take off and land his single-engine aircraft, which he’ll also to keep in a hangar he’ll build on the property.

The site has an agricultural zoning designation, which requires a special exception from the Hancock County Board of Zoning Appeals for an airstrip. Board members voted 3-2 to grant that exception for Schleter Thursday night, with Dee Carmichael, Michael Long and Merle McRoberts voting in favor and Byron Holden and Renee Oldham voting against.

Barring no changes of heart from the other four members, the vote hinged on Carmichael, who could not attend last month’s zoning board meeting that resulted in a 2-2 tie and continued the matter.

“It was a tough decision,” Carmichael told the Daily Reporter.

He added he’s lived in rural areas his whole life, including near individuals with private airfields over the years, and personally never found them to be a concern for safety or quality of life.

One concern Carmichael and other board members had was a commitment Schleter proposed that he would not allow more than 20 flights from pilots besides himself to use the airstrip per year. Board members said they understood from the proposal first presented last month that Schleter would be the only one using the airstrip, except in emergencies. Schleter withdrew the proposed condition.

“Had it been for other people to use, I couldn’t have” supported it, Carmichael said.

Harold Gibson of Greenfield-based H. Gibson Land Surveying, representing Schleter, built part of his case on a video of the pilot taking off from the Pope airfield off Main Street on Greenfield’s east side and flying over nearby housing additions. He also presented a flight pattern Schleter committed to with the Federal Aviation Administration showing that he’ll approach takeoff and landings from the south of the airstrip, away from the Indianapolis Regional Airport to the north. Gibson noted Schleter wouldn’t be able to fly lower than 500 feet from the ground in the area.

Residents living near the site who oppose the airstrip maintain it’ll be too close to the hundreds of homes in the area and have concerns about safety and noise. Larry Strange, Hancock County’s deputy planning director, reported receiving a petition in opposition with more than 100 signatures. The county planning department gave the request an unfavorable recommendation as well.

Frank LaFon, also a pilot who lives in Stone Ridge, expressed his opposition during the zoning board meeting.

“I keep my airplane at Mt. Comfort Airport (Indianapolis Regional Airport), where I believe it belongs,” LaFon said.

He contested the altitude figure Gibson mentioned and pointed to a federal law stating that aircraft must be 1,000 feet above the highest obstacle when flying over congested areas. LaFon also shared concerns over the impacts on nearby well water were there to be a fuel leak on the airstrip.

Schleter next needs approval for the airstrip from the Indiana Department of Transportation.

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