Atroubling cloud has been cast over the future of Williams Gateway Airport as a regional travel hub and economic growth engine, calling into question Mesa’s commitment to fulfill a vision supported by the entire East Valley.
On Tuesday, the Mesa City Council was unable to block a proposal from Cornerstone Homes to build a 52-house subdivision within the airport’s flight path northeast of Elliot and Ellsworth roads. Mayor Keno Hawker was clearly angry that council members Janie Thom and Tom Rawles ignored the community’s long-range best interest to protect the property owner’s zoning rights. But the real failure can be placed at the feet of city planners who never should have allowed this issue to be decided by a small minority of the council in a high-pressure moment.
For years, Mesa and its airport partners have been united in their efforts to set aside land around the airport for commercial and industrial uses consistent with noise pollution that will be generated by passenger flights. The Mesa City Council has resisted growing pressure from developers to allow housing construction instead. New homeowners tend to forget that an airport was there first, and demands to cut back on noise and overhead flights would significantly degrade Williams’ real potential to be the Valley’s second-busiest port for passenger traffic and general cargo flights.
Mesa had annexed the parcel targeted by Cornerstone in 1990 and designated it as a future business park in the 2025 general plan. But city planners never bothered to seek a change in the actual zoning from 1-acre residential to the appropriate commercial land use.
And the mistake only came to light when Cornerstone asked for a routine meeting to discuss plans for a subdivision. Administration officials rushed a zoning change before the council, but a neighboring property owner opposed to the change invoked its rights under state law that allow just two of seven council votes to defeat such a switch. Thom and Rawles delivered.
We hope a single subdivision isn’t a fatal blow to Williams. But Williams Gateway Project Manager Wayne Balmer had better make sure proper zoning is in place for every other parcel around the airport, or is set in place as property is annexed.
Mesa and its partners have invested too much time and taxpayer money to see Williams fail because of inattention from the people we pay to protect its future.