By Starrla Cray
CARVER, McLEOD COUNTIES, MN Based on recent meetings, the likelihood of Westside Skydivers purchasing property on Vega Avenue in Hollywood Township for its skydiving operation doesn’t appear very high.
Owner Joe Johnson applied for an interim use permit for about 49 acres at 5125 Vega Avenue (property currently owned by Carol Johnson Jackson), a request the Hollywood Township Board declined at its Feb. 11 meeting.
The request went to the Carver County Planning Commission Tuesday night, and was again voted down.
The final meeting where it will be presented is the Carver County Board, and Board Chair Tim Lynch (who represents Hollywood Township) said he doesn’t foresee a different outcome.
“The findings of fact seem very solid,” he said. “There’d have to be some earth-shattering new information.”
At the Hollywood Township meeting, concern was raised regarding traffic, noise, and potential crop damage from off-target landings.
“There was a very large number of residents present for the meeting, and there was overwhelming opposition to this application,” Hollywood Township Chair Jim Burns noted in a letter to Carver County’s senior planner.
A major factor was the amount of traffic from the skydiving operation, which could be as high as 150 trips per day at its busiest, according to Burns. He explained that the road already receives 80 to 100 trips per day from current residents and Top Dog Country Club.
As a minimum maintenance road, Burns noted that Vega Avenue is not built to handle a high volume of traffic. The township’s comprehensive plan discourages land uses that raise traffic levels on gravel roads above 200 trips.
The added traffic could also become a safety issue, Burns noted. The intersection of Vega Avenue and Highway 7 has a small right turn lane from the east, with no bypass lane, left turn lane, or other controls.
“Another concern people have is noise,” Lynch said.
According to Burns’ letter, residents said the airplanes could be a disturbance to peaceful enjoyment of their property, and also questioned the effect on their property values.
Neighboring farmers were also apprehensive about crop damage and liability issues if skydivers land in their fields or pastures.
Lynch said he hasn’t been contacted by anyone in favor of having the skydiving operation in Hollywood Township, and the county board is inclined to listen to the recommendations of the township and planning commission.
“The best form of government is the one closest to the people,” he said.
Westside Skydivers info
Westside Skydivers currently operates out of the Winsted Municipal Airport.
“Since opening Westside Skydivers in 2010, we have had zero [Federal Aviation Administration] FAA violations,” Johnson stated in his permit application. “Westside Skydivers is open seven days per week, from approximately April 1 to Nov. 30, with the bulk of the business done in June, July, and August.”
Johnson stated that winter hours are limited to weekends only, and are dependent on the weather ambient temperature on the ground needs to be at 20 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
Westside Skydivers did about 5,500 tandem jumps in 2012, and does not anticipate exponential growth in the future, Johnson stated.