On March 17, 2016, the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee of the United States Senate approved amendments to the most recent funding legislation for the Federal Aviation Administration (“FAA”), the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2016, that, among other things, appear to preempt to preempt local and state efforts to regulate the operation of unmanned aircraft systems (“UAS” or “drones”).
In an exercise of regulatory zeal, El Paso County, Colorado (“County”) now requires that City owned Colorado Springs Airport (“Airport”) obtain a permit from the County for any changes in airport physical development or operations that might affect nearby property located in the County.
Purportedly under the authority of the Colorado Areas and Activities of State Interest Act, § 24-65-101, et seq., the Board of County Commissioners (“Board”) “has specific authority to consider and designate matters of state interest . . . and to adopt guidelines and regulations for administration of areas and activities of state interest. . .” Pursuant to that purported authority, by Resolution No. 13-267, June 6, 2013, and recorded at Reception No. 213077196 of the El Paso County Clerk and Recorder’s Office, “the Board designated certain areas and activities of state interest” and established “a permit process for development in certain areas of state interest,” Resolution No. 13-530, Resolution Amending Guidelines and Regulations for Areas and Activities of State Interest of El Paso County, and designating additional matters of state interest. December 17, 2013. The new areas of state interest designated in the Resolution include: “site selection and expansion of airports,” Resolution, p. 3, § 1. The County has interpreted the permit process to extend to “runway extension, noise and other impacts that might affect property owners . . .,” Gazette, January 17, 2014, quoting Mark Gebhart, Deputy Director of County Development Services Department.
Therein lies the rub.
Developers and local land use jurisdictions beware. The California Department of Transportation (“CalTrans”) has initiated an update of the 2002 California Airport Land Use Planning Handbook which is scheduled to be completed in 2010. The Handbook provides guidance to County Airport Land Use Commissions (“ALUC”) in the imposition of height and other zoning and land use restrictions around airports.
An initial problem arises from the Handbook’s interpretation of the airport land use planning process as set forth in the California Aeronautics Act, Public Utilities Code § 21670, et seq. The California Supreme Court has defined airport land use plans as in the nature of “multi-jurisdictional general plans,” Muzzy Ranch Co. v. Solano County Airport Land Use Commission, 41 Cal.4th 372, 384 (2007), that often supercede local zoning at distances as great as five miles from the end of each runway. For land use jurisdictions, this means that carefully crafted local regulations within those areas are rendered essentially null, because land use jurisdictions must bring their general and specific plans into consistency with airport land use plans within 180 days of the airport land use plan’s approval, or overrule the approval of the Airport Land Use Plan by a two-thirds vote. Gov. Code § 65302.3.