Leland dispute is about land use, not a fence
The front-page article in the Dec. 18 edition of the Index-Tribune indicated that the conflict between Sonoma Valley Airport and Leland Fly Fishing School was simply a dispute between neighbors over a contested fence.
The much more critical issue is that of planned land use in Sonoma County and the regulations concerning development.
Josh Frazier had originally applied for permits to build a fly-fishing school and commercial retail building on land he had recently purchased directly adjacent to Sonoma Valley Airport. When both the Sonoma County Planning Department and the Airport Land Use Commission found a public gathering development directly off the end of an active runway to be an incompatible use, they denied the application.
Mr. Frazier then withdrew his fly fishing school application and submitted an application for an agricultural water storage pond and received a permit for that use. He then proceeded to build a fly fishing pond, a retail building and other structures, all without Sonoma County planning review or approval, approved building plans and code compliance reviews, neighbor and public input, or building inspections.
Mr. Frazier initially had the option of selling the property adjacent to the airport and buying property more suitable for his intended use. Cornerstone Sonoma is a full-featured events center with a restaurant and shops located a quarter mile from the airport but without public spaces in line with an airport runway, and is a completely compatible land use near an airport. Land use regulations around airports in California came about as a result of a horrific crash of an ex-military aircraft into an ice cream parlor built directly off the end of the runway of an airport in Sacramento. The State of California requires that any county with an active airport establishes an Airport Land Use Commission to review all development adjacent to airports to ensure that they are compatible and guarantee the public’s safety.
There are many compatible uses for land adjacent to airports, and any property owner near an airport has few restrictions on the use of their property. A nightclub with loud music in the middle of a residential neighborhood or an adult book store next to an elementary school are examples of incompatible property use, just as are an ice cream parlor or fly-fishing school in the safety clear zone off an airport runway.
More troubling is the fact that Mr. Frazier now has an application before the Board of Zoning Adjustments to grant him an exemption to the Sonoma County and State of California land use regulations to grandfather his illegal development and make legitimate an otherwise prohibited and incompatible use of the property he purchased.
Mr. Frazier seems to be a sophisticated developer, judging by his ability to turn an illegal land use issue into simply a dispute between neighbors over a fence. Should Sonoma County grant his use permit, it would establish the official precedent in Sonoma County that indeed, it is easier to get forgiveness that it is to get permission.
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Darrel Jones is a local electrical contractor and private pilot. He flies from Sonoma Skypark Airport on Eighth Street East and serves on the board of directors there.