Planning commissioner veered off course

Members of the Mesa County Planning Commission have the right to speak their minds, just as other county residents do. But it doesn’t serve the county well when they make unsubstantiated claims against a developer.

Planning Commission member Mark Bonella went too far in his testimony before the county commissioners Tuesday regarding Gateway Canyons developer John Hendricks and his plans for scenic tours operating from his private airport.

Bonella’s claim that Hendricks has been violating his existing permit for use of the private airstrip — that he is already operating commercial scenic tours — isn’t backed up by evidence, just speculation. Gateway Canyons pilots have tested the planes they plan to use for the scenic flights, but that doesn’t mean they are already offering commercial flights. Hendricks said only friends and family have been aboard so far.

Similarly, Bonella’s claim that there is some nefarious plan afoot to expand the scenic flights into an air taxi service doesn’t withstand scrutiny. Hendricks and his staff may hope to do that one day, but they know it will require another amendment to their county permit — and more public hearings — before that can occur.

For the permit approved by the commissioners this week, Gateway Canyons actually sought more limited operating hours than the county approved. That’s not evidence of some sleight-of-hand plan to expand operations.

There is no doubt that Hendricks, the founder of television’s Discovery Channel, is a wealthy man. He should not be afforded special favors by the county just because he has money.

But neither should he be demonized just because he is rich. Hendricks has developed and operated Gateway Canyons within the rules established by Mesa County. He has done the same thing to date with his private airfield. He has agreed to a number of conditions on his scenic flights to help mitigate potential impacts.

One can disagree with the commissioners’ decision, as several Gateway folks do. But accusing Hendricks of plots and perfidy is wrong, especially coming from a Planning Commission member.


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