Mesa's General Plan wisely would keep future homebuilding away from Williams Gateway Airport and its flight paths.
Noise complaints from enough future home buyers in east Mesa could jeopardize the economic development potential of what most East Valley leaders see as a major regional employment hub.
But plans don't always translate into reality. And there are several hundred acres near Williams Gateway that are designated in the General Plan for future commercial development are actually zoned for homes.
As the Tribune's Blake Herzog reported recently, the owner of one 26-acre parcel near Sossaman and Elliot roads, about 2.5 miles north of the airport, is preparing to build 21 homes on the property in accordance with the zoning. Mesa annexed the land in 1990, but the zoning was never changed to conform with plans for the airport.
Richard Mulligan, Mesa's economic development director, told Herzog that homebuilding in that area almost certainly would generate future noise complaints. “As close as they are to the runway, I feel pretty confident that it wouldn't take too much time before the airport starts fielding some noise complaints. And the issue will be, ‘Hey, I just invested my life savings in this house, will you please move the airport?’ ”
Moving Williams Gateway, a former Air Force base, would be out of the question. It already represents a massive investment not only in runways and aviation-related buildings and facilities, but also Arizona State University East, which offers aviation related programs.
Now is the time to protect the airport, not later when hundreds or even thousands of new home buyers are screaming about airplane noise. And with freight and commercial airline service in the offing at Williams Gateway, we're talking big planes that make a lot of noise.
But when residential zoning is already in place, it probably won't be as simple — or cheap — as telling the owner not to build homes, or to build something else. If being forced to change development plans would financially harm the land's owner, that could be grounds for a court challenge.
There are other development options, such as commercial centers or light industry, that would be more compatible with the airport and also would bring a healthy return on investment, but probably not as quickly has home building.
It's imperative that Mesa officials work with owners of parcels near Williams Gateway where zoning conflicts with the General Plan. It would be in everyone's best interests to resolve these cases before owners are ready to develop.