LUBA Appeal Challenging Sunset Airpark Expansion

By Miki Barnes
November 25, 2013

Oregon Aviation Watch (OAW) is partnering with the Washington County Citizen Action Network (WC CAN) in challenging Ordinance 772. Our respective groups share a mutual concern that the county overstepped state law by allowing airport development outside established airport boundaries. We also believe Ordinance 772 sets a dangerous precedent by opening the door to large-scale airport related development with no safeguards to protect communities from noise, pollution, and other encroachments that accompany expansion. In addition, this ordinance threatens to restrict farming activities in the area.

On 11/12/13, attorney Sean Malone filed a Notice of Intent to Appeal with the Oregon Land Use Board of Appeals (LUBA) informing them of our intent to appeal. Ordinance 772 proponents insist that the creation of the "residential airport overlay district" does not constitute an expansion of the existing airport, despite that fact that airport uses are permitted by Ordinance 772 in the proposed district. It is worth noting that a 2009 attempt to expand the 14 acre Sunset Airpark boundaries by adding an additional 100 acres was denied by the Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD).

Who We Are

WC CAN is "a coalition of grassroots advocates (individuals and groups) dedicated to improving quality of life in Washington County by promoting healthy and sustainable communities, social and economic justice, and open and responsive government." (See for additional information.)

Oregon Aviation Watch (OAW) is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization. Our mission is to enhance and protect the quality of life for Oregon residents by eliminating the adverse impacts of aviation activity. Our vision is to achieve a transparent, accountable, and sustainable aviation system that neither disregards nor diminishes the environment, livability, health, or well-being of current and future generations of Oregon residents. (See About OAW for additional information).


On 10/22/13, the Washington County Board of Commissioners voted to establish a new section of county code, CDC 389, which allows for a "residential airport overlay district" over Sunset Orchards, a 79 acre, 18 parcel subdivision located south of North Plains, Oregon. The property is owned by Bob and April Jossy. Ordinance 772 grants future owners access, via individual taxiways constructed on their properties, to a 3,050 foot runway at the neighboring Sunset Airpark - a residential, private use airport, currently restricted to personal use only. County documents, however, contend that, by virtue of its private airport designation, the Sunset Airpark is authorized to engage in commercial activities including, but not limited to, air passenger, air freight, flight training, aircraft sales, and rentals.[1]

The passage of Ordinance 772 paves the way for the construction of hangars, taxiways, and tie-downs outside airport boundaries on properties with existing dwellings zoned for rural residential, agricultural and forest uses. Potential buyers will be permitted to store an unlimited number of aircraft on their individual properties both in their hangars and on tie-down areas. In addition, there are no restrictions on the number of annual arrivals and departures that can occur at this facility. The ordinance also creates a template that can be applied in other parts of the county.

Sunset Airpark and Independence Airport Comparison

Some promoters of the ordinance, including Washington County Planning Commissioner Ed Bartholemy, cited the Independence Airport as a successful residential airpark and indicated that the Sunset "residential airport overlay district" was modeled after this airport.[2] See the table below comparing the Independence Airport with the Sunset Airpark. Information on the Sunset Airpark can be found at Airport IQ 5010: Data on the Independence Airport is available at

Independence Airport, located approximately 10 miles from the Salem-McNary Airport, is owned and operated by the Oregon State Department of Aviation (ODA). Its 3,142 foot runway approximates the length of the Sunset Airpark runway. The Sunset runway, however, is much wider (200 feet vs 60 feet). With the approval of Ordinance 772, Sunset Airpark now has more acreage designated for airport uses than Independence Airport - 93 at Sunset vs 69 at Independence. There are a total of 181 aircraft based at the Independence Airpark. For a 12 month period ending on 6/9/11, Independence logged 33,658 operations, an average of nearly 100 per day, including 1,121 air taxi flights. Nutsch Aviation, also located at the Independence Airpark, offers a number of aviation services including flight training, fuel sales and aircraft rentals.

By comparison, there are currently 14 based aircraft at the Sunset Airpark, but with Ordinance 772 provisions allowing for unlimited aircraft on individual properties and with the more than 6-fold increase in acreage set aside for airport uses, the number of based aircraft at Sunset could easily exceed 100 or more in just a few short years.

It is possible that the Sunset Airpark hopes to tap into federal and state hand-outs as Independence does. Independence Airport is a prime example of the benefits accorded to those who can afford to park multiple aircraft in their driveways and garages/hangars. This facility, which per the Oregon Department of Aviation is operated in part "as a residential airpark with taxiways from the existing runway/taxiway system leading to hangars attached to single family homes,"[3] has been the recipient of more than $2 million in federal and state aid since 1999. See Oregon Department of Aviation Annual Reports from 2000 to 2012 ( for more information on the lavish public subsidies dispersed to the Independence Airport and other Oregon Airports over the past 14 years.

Independence AirparkSunset Airpark (before Ord. 772)Sunset Airpark (after Ord. 772)
OwnershipOR Dept. of AviationRoth DevelopmentRoth Development
Runway Length3,142 ft3,050 ft3,050 ft
Runway Width60 ft200 ft200 ft
Annual Operations33,658Not recordedunknown
Based Aircraft18114unlimited
Services ProvidedFlight training, fuel sales, aircraft rentals, air taxisResidential, personal use onlyCounty claims that commercial operations are authorized for this airport
Public AssistanceMore than $2 Million in state and federal aid since 1999None knownIntent of current expansion effort remains unclear

Washington County Already Deluged By Excessive, Noisy and Toxic Aviation Activity

Washington County residents are already subjected to the noise and pollution generated by the more than 200,000 annual Hillsboro Airport (HIO) operations. HIO ranks in the top one percent, 21st in the nation, in lead emissions from aviation activity. According to Port of Portland estimates, HIO emitted 0.7 tons of lead per year (TPY) in 2007. These emissions are expected to increase to 0.9 tons within a few years. In addition, the entire region is pummeled by aircraft noise, day and night, in large part due to the enormous amount of flight training and recreational flying associated with HIO. Portland International, Stark's Twin Oaks, North Plains Gliderport, Apple Valley, Scappoose and a host of other nearby airports also contribute to the excessive aviation activity throughout the area.

The expansion of airport uses at and in the vicinity of the Sunset Airpark will make the situation worse and will further compromise rapidly dwindling rural agricultural lands while contributing to the continuing erosion of livability and air quality throughout the region.

Please Donate

Oregon Aviation Watch is an all volunteer organization that relies on the generosity of community members to address the excesses of aviation activity in Oregon. The Ordinance 772 appeal is expected to cost upwards of $4,000 to $5,000 in legal fees. Thanks to the generosity of WC CAN and OAW supporters, we have already received over $1,000 in contributions since initiating this project. We urge you to join us in our efforts. Please see Donate to make a tax-deductible contribution. Thank you.


[1] Back, Andy. Washington County Board of Commissioners Staff Report. Ordinance No. 772. (9/16/13). Pg. 5.

[2] Washington County Planning Commission Ordinance No. 772 Transcript. (9/4/13). Pg. 15.

[3] Oregon Department of Aviation 2001 Annual Report. Pg. 16-17.

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