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Marion airport experiences growing pains

Neighbors worry growth will impose new hardships

Jeff Jordan (left), and his on, Spencer Jordan (right), are seen Wednesday at the top of their tallest grain storage bin, which measures 65 feet high, outside of Marion. The Jordans are concerned that new airspace rules for the Marion Airport would hinder their ability to add equipment to their farm as their business grows. The city will hold a public hearing this month as the first step toward a plan to revamp a runway at the small airport, seen in the distance. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
Jeff Jordan (left), and his on, Spencer Jordan (right), are seen Wednesday at the top of their tallest grain storage bin, which measures 65 feet high, outside of Marion. The Jordans are concerned that new airspace rules for the Marion Airport would hinder their ability to add equipment to their farm as their business grows. The city will hold a public hearing this month as the first step toward a plan to revamp a runway at the small airport, seen in the distance. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
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MARION — Spencer Jordan said his family has been farming for seven generations.

Jordan hopes to continue that work with his young son and daughter one day, but has concerns that potential problems brought on by the city’s desire to enhance the nearby municipal airport might limit his farm production growth potential. He farms corn and soybeans and raises cattle just outside Marion with his father, Jeff Jordan, who has similar concerns.

The Marion City Council has set a June 20 public hearing on a comprehensive plan amendment that, if adopted, would clear the path for airport zoning and an airport overlay designation. The rezoning and overlay would then have to go through the Planning and Zoning Commission and City Council as well for approval.

The city’s moves are directly tied to a state grant of $475,000 to help redo and widen the Marion Airport’s crumbling runway from 32 feet to 60 feet. That expansion requires proper zoning to limit the uses of the land and height of structures near the airport.

In all, the reconstruction of the runway and lighting for the airport is expected to cost between $3.5 and $4 million.

Thomas Treharne, community development director, said the overlay would restrict heights of the structures in the zone to 150 feet. For context, he said, water towers are typically 120 feet.

“Now, this looks like a lot of land use regulation,” Treharne said, adding that in residential areas, homes are regulated to 35 feet. “Even the commercial-industrial areas, where they have a little higher opportunity, still 150 feet is a substantial facility. And normally, we don’t see that in Marion.”

Thousands of land parcels would fall under the airport overlay, Treharne said. Some of that would be Jordan’s property, southeast of the airport, where his family just built a new corn storage bin system.

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The farm’s capacity now doesn’t call for more than arguers to transport corn to a wet holding bin and then again to the storage bin. But Spencer Jordan plans to one day install a grain leg to more efficiently transport the corn as his farm grows. And he fears that he might be limited because of his proximity to the airport.

“So when you got two or three bins, it makes sense to just use augers. But when you get tall enough bins and enough bins, you can buy something called a grain leg,” Jordan said — a tower structure with buckets to lift corn to bins.

Treharne said if someone needs a zoning variance for something like a grain leg, “I don’t know that that’s going to be the end of the world.”

But the applicant may have to add lights to the top of the gain leg.

“And I said ‘OK, then sign the paper that says you’ll give me the exemptions 10 years from now when I need it,” Jordan said. “Saying that there’s an exemption doesn’t make the problem go away, unless you guarantee me.”

Jordan isn’t the only airport neighbor with concerns. A number of community members showed up to a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting to discuss their worries, including how noise from more frequent or bigger planes may affect the milk production of cows.

The city didn’t have an airport zone before. The airport was privately owned and in the county when it was acquired by the city in 2015. When the city purchased portions of the airport, including the runway, the state asked the city to provide an airport layout plan to tap into funding, Treharne said.

That is a capital improvement plan and visioning document for the facility over the next few decades. The plan calls for not only an extension of the length of the current north to south runway from about 3,775 to 5,600 feet, but the addition of another 5,400-foot runway running from east to west. Those extensions would require the city to buy more land.

Treharne said there’s nothing currently in the capital improvement plan for those projects, and they would have to be accounted for in future budget cycles.

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The council would have the ability to change the direction of the airport’s future if members aren’t comfortable with its eventual size or cost. Updating a comprehensive plan for new zoning and overlays is a first step, and the airport layout plan isn’t necessarily binding.

“The council would have to dedicate the funds and the resources to build that out ultimately. But we are laying the groundwork for that in our long-range plan. So the zoning would then come in place and protect those areas consistent with the plan,” Treharne told the council during a work session Tuesday.

If the airport expands, it would better accommodate more planes. Treharne told the council the facility could start safely supporting some business jets, specifically B-II and eventually C-II categories, according to the airport layout plan.

The letters B and C refer to approach speed and the number refers to wingspan. Among B-II and C-II groups, craft like some Cessna Citation airplanes and a Gulfstream G450 would be able to land at the airport when it’s built out, according to the plan.

“I can live with them fixing the runway that they have. And I can support that,” Jordan said. “Their big master plan, just it’s not coexisting with who’s around it, forcing regulation on people that have cooperated with them in the past.”

• Comments: (319) 339-3172; maddy.arnold@thegazette.com

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