Airport project reveals deficits in county zoning

Two words come quickly to mind by many of those opposed to the Taos Regional Airport: fear and loathing.

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Two words come quickly to mind by many of those opposed to the Taos Regional Airport: fear and loathing.

A vocal group has spent the last few months trying to stir up public opposition to the airport’s expansion. Some claim black helicopters will invade the region and buildings will crumble from the vibrations of low-flying aircraft. Others want to use the airport as a symbol of how wealthy newcomers are driving out longtime residents.

We believe a lot of the rhetoric is unfounded.

But we do think some of the project’s opponents have raised a legitimate concern regarding zoning issues that have not been addressed.

Construction of a new crosswind runway, touted as a safety measure, is not expected to dramatically increase aircraft traffic. But it will change approach and landing patterns. This means residents — especially on the airport’s east side — may see a lot more planes coming and going.

Last week, opponents of the expansion filed a lawsuit arguing the town had taken no steps to get approval from the county government to go ahead with the project.

By the time the lawsuit was filed, the town had already met with the county planning director and filed a hastily prepared permit application. It’s clear the lawsuit lit a fire under town officials.

Now, the fate of the expansion rests on the shoulders of a single man — the county planning director. It will be up to him to determine what kind of impact the new runway will have and whether it would negatively affect residents there.

We commend the county planning department for soliciting comments from property owners who are adjacent to the airport. Their thoughts matter. They are owed a say in what’s happening.

However, we also believe the airport expansion is the latest in a long list of proposed developments that would prompt far less controversy if Taos County had real, comprehensive zoning.

There’s no real or enforceable plan for the property around the airport, meaning there’s nothing to stop a developer from building a subdivision at the end of a runway, except maybe common sense.

If the town manages to get the green light from the county to do the airport project, we strongly urge officials to form a joint zoning district in the airport area.

We’d like to know they’ve given real thought to Taos’ future instead of giving the appearance they’re just trying to stay out of trouble.

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