Armistice in the air

By KATHY KORENGEL

Herald Writer

MARYSVILLE – Dave Sweetwood, an Everett attorney, learned to fly model airplanes at his father’s side. He’d like to pass the tradition on to his grandson.

That may have become a little easier because of a recent county planning decision.

The Evergreen Radio Modelers Association, to which Sweetwood belongs, just received a permit to fly members’ radio-controlled airplanes over a field at 6832 112th St. NE, north of Marysville.

The permit, which has been two years coming, brings to a close for now a squabble between the fliers and their neighbors that has included damaged roofs, shot-down model planes and frayed nerves.

The club, whose members fly planes with 3- to 7-foot wingspans, is the first in Snohomish County to be granted such a permit.

The permit includes 15 special conditions designed to appease neighbors, delineating everything from the pitch of the planes’ engine noise to a 100-foot buffer zone around the fliers’ field.

"We hope the rules and regulations keep our neighbors happy and give them someone in the club to contact if there’s a problem," Sweetwood said. "We’re trying to be good neighbors."

Jake Neff, a farmer who worries about plane debris hurting the cows on his nearby dairy farm, is not wild about his neighbors’ noisy hobby, but has resigned himself to the decision. Neff, whose farmhand once shot down a model plane in frustration several years ago, still questions allowing the activity in his neighborhood.

"I don’t feel those little, buzzing airplanes are necessarily something that a farmer or animals that are a little apprehensive of the things should be involved with in an ag(ricultural) zone," Neff said.

Sweetwood, who represented small-airplane enthusiasts in their permit application, said the club first convinced the county to adopt legislation allowing such clubs in agricultural lands in 1997, legitimizing what the club had been doing for years. The club has been flying in the 24-acre, leased field since 1988.

The club applied for a permit from the county in June 1998. It received one a year later, but the permit was rescinded after Gerald Ross, an annoyed neighbor, filed an appeal in July 1999.

The permit was pulled because of a "clerical error" in its language, said Scott White, an agricultural planner with Snohomish County Planning and Development Services.

"Since it hadn’t gone very smoothly the first time, I contacted neighbors to find out what was going on," White said.

He sorted through about 25 letters from neighbors and brought everyone together for a public meeting in April. He then sent a letter to all who had attended, outlining his plan.

"Then and only then did I issue a permit," White said, and since then he hasn’t heard a complaint.

He hasn’t even heard from Ross, who before the public meeting wrote a letter describing the situation as "hell." The letter recalled how a plane had crashed into Ross’ roof several years ago and crashed into a neighbor’s lawn.

"We can’t have an outdoor gathering … on a nice sunny day because the noise from those blasted model airplanes are so irritating," wrote Ross in the letter dated March 11.

Neff, another neighbor, is still concerned about the debris from crashing planes that falls into his hayfield, where he raises feed for his cows. He worries the cows will eat the debris and become ill.

"They may say they clean it up, but they don’t," Neff said of club members. "But they have been better neighbors in the last few years.

"Maybe it’s (the permit’s) a good thing," Neff said. "It will give me some sort of way to control these guys. I’ve been having a heck of a time until now."

Club members remembered the crash into Ross’ roof, but said the plane’s owner fixed the roof right away.

Several conditions of the permit address neighbors’ concerns about property damage, including posting a contact number for neighbors and requiring club members to carry insurance to cover such incidents. The permit will be up for renewal in five years.

Club members said they clean up any accident, and sometimes problems are caused by nonmembers who use the field.

Bruce "Doc" Lamus, a retired Everett physician who flies at the field five mornings a week, sees the permit as a positive thing.

"For the foreseeable future we’ll have a place to fly," Lamus said, adding that all over the country, clubs are struggling to keep airfields as they get squeezed out by annoyed neighbors or encroaching development.

Dick Brooks, the club’s president, also welcomed the county’s decision.

"I love building model airplanes and flying them," Brooks said.

"People think what we do isn’t important. Soccer is important to some people. Baseball is important to some people. This is what’s important to us."

You can call Herald Writer Kathy Korengel at 425-339-3207or send e-mail to

korengel@heraldnet.com.

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