City abandons 21st Street bridge, airpark leases still contentious
PHOTO: Andreas Ruttkiewicz and student pilot land an ultralight at the Courtenay Airpark. Ruttkiewicz runs the Air Speed High Ultralight flight school at the airpark.
Courtenay abandons 21st Street river crossing thanks to Mayor Jangula, but city staff and council temporarily ground his proposal to give long-term certainly to airpark business owners at Monday’s meeting
This article was expanded Tuesday (Aug. 21) morning to add a response from the Airpark Association suggesting that Councillor Lennox made an erroneous statement regarding the airpark’s tax status.
Courtenay Mayor Larry Jangula took a conciliatory approach Monday night to concerns raised by members of the Airpark Association and successfully landed a unanimous agreement from council to abandon all discussions of a third river crossing at 21st Street.
But his attempt to address the larger issue of the airpark’s long-term viability crashed on takeoff.
A city proposal for a road through the airpark leading to a bridge through Hollyhock Marsh, and staff comments that all airpark leases would be converted to a month-to-month basis, has angered Courtenay Airpark Association members and aviation business owners.
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They see the two issues as an attempt by the city to shut down the airpark.
Jangula tried to calm the airpark association’s fears last week, but his comments fell short.
This week, Jangula stepped down from the mayor’s chair to clarify his position with a motion that City Council officially abandon all consideration of a bridge at 21st Street. It passed unanimously.
Then Jangula tackled the bigger issue and proposed that the city offer the Airpark Association and aviation businesses 25-40 year leases on the city-owned property.
That got applause from the standing-room only audience, but less support from city staff and several council members.
Chief Administrative Officer David Allen derailed Jangula’s intentions to give the airpark immediate long-term assurances by suggesting council wait for city staff to do a report on the viability of offering long-term leases.
Councillor Doug Hillian made a motion to direct staff to do such a report, preferably by the Sept. 4 meeting, which passed, but not without some hesitation by councillors David Frisch, Rebecca Lennox and Hillian.
Hillian said council has “a responsibility to consider the implications of long-term use of city-owned properties.”
Frisch and Lennox seemed more reluctant in their comments. At one point, Lennox even referenced the Airpark Associations “tax-free status,” which is an erroneous statement, according to association president Morris Perrey.
“She is totally wrong,” Perrey said. “The businesses pay land taxes and lease fees and all the fees that every business pays, all the city insurance costs, everything and the city still gets their fees.”
Perrey said because the Airpark Association is a society and not supposed to pay taxes, the city charges the association fees in lieu, which have increased about 15 percent in the last five years.
Earlier in the meeting, Frisch appeared opposed to taking a 21st Street bridge off the table, although he ultimately voted in favor.
“We still have to move people around,” he said, referring to growing traffic congestion around the 17th St. and Fifth St. bridges.
CAO Allen said one of city staff’s strategic priorities for 2016-2018 is to assess city-owned land, and they have already identified several properties to start the review. He said it would be a “long and rigorous” process, and that discussions have already taken place in-camera.
Besides Jangula, two other council members, Bob Wells and Hillian, apologized to Airpark Association members.
Hillian called the public document showing a bridge through the airpark a ”mistake.”
Wells apologized for “the angst, stress and uncertainty we’ve put people through.”
He said the city acted without full consideration of how the 21st Street crossing proposal impacted the aviation community.
CAO Allen said the bridge proposal was never expected to be a fait accompli, and a staff member said the idea arose from the public consultation process about the city’s transportation plan.
That staff member termed the consultation process a “success” because it got the strong reaction from the Airpark Association. That comment caused eye-rolling murmurs among the audience.
Finally, Jangula made a motion to break from the agenda and let Airpark Association spokesman Dave Mellin speak and respond to the council discussion so far. That required a two-thirds vote, which it received, with Lennox and Frisch opposing it.
Referring to the uncertainty of short-term leases, Mellin said jobs and job security were on the line. Up to 90 people are employed at the airpark, depending on the season.
He said several business expansion plans have been stalled by council’s lack of clarity, and that five-year leases are of no value to the aviation businesses seeking long-term security.
“People are hanging out on a limb here,” he said.