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Airstrip court hearing resumes Nov. 3

Town of Chino Valley officials and members of the Perkins family return to Yavapai County Superior Court in Prescott Nov. 3 to continue a court proceeding on the town’s legal challenge to a private airstrip.

Superior Court Judge David Mackey on Oct. 26 decided to continue the hearing at 9 a.m. Nov. 3 to allow more witnesses to testify. Mackey, who presides over Division 1 cases, heard testimony from five witnesses during the three-hour hearing Oct. 26.

The town’s attorneys filed a lawsuit Sept. 14 to seek a temporary restraining order and an injunction to challenge the family’s bid to build the airstrip on the Perkins Ranch about seven miles east of Highway 89 on Perkinsville Road. Town officials contend that ranch officials did not obtain the necessary permits and rezone the property from single-family residential with a two-acre minimum to industrial.

The town’s attorney, Mark Drutz of Musgrove, Drutz & Kack P.C. of Prescott, said after the Oct. 26 hearing that he was pleased with Mackey’s decision.

“It gives the court the opportunity to consider all the evidence,” he said. He added that he plans to call more witnesses to the stand.

Drutz filed the lawsuit six days after the council met behind closed doors to discuss possible legal action against the ranch. Mayor Karen Fann and other town officials reported hearing complaints from ranch neighbors about airstrip construction beginning in August.

He initially named the contractor, Vastco of Chino Valley, but withdrew Vastco from the lawsuit because the company agreed to comply with the court order.

Under questioning from Drutz, Planning Director Gerald Stricklin testified Oct. 26 that the Perkins family did not apply for and obtain a conditional use permit and rezone the property to industrial.

The attorney for the Perkins family, Russell Kolsrud of Norling, Kolsrud, Sifferman and Davis P.L.C. in Scottsdale, cross-examined the witnesses with the exception of Fann. During Kolsrud’s questioning, Drutz raised repeated objections, and Mackey sustained some of the objections.

Drutz referred to the pre-annexation agreement between the town and the ranch that the Town Council adopted Sept. 27, 2001, and asked Stricklin whether the Perkinses submitted a list of “non-conforming” uses of their property. The airstrip site formerly occupied land outside the town.

“Not to my knowledge,” said Stricklin, who has been on the job since August. He defined non-conforming as a structure that predates new zoning and was legal at the time of construction.

Kolsrud noted that Stricklin is new on the job, and asked Stricklin, “I take it that you have no personal knowledge of negotiations” between the Perkinses and the town.

Stricklin said that he has read the file, and responded to a separate question that he dealt with 10 pre-annexation agreements during his two-decade stint with the Town of Wickenburg.

The next witness, Fann, said that she has known Marge and Tom Perkins for at least 10 years, and discussed their previous plans to build a “touch and go” airstrip in conjunction with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. (The minutes for the Sept. 27, 2001, council meeting refer to the touch-and-go plans.)

Responding to another question from Drutz, Fann said that she met with Perkins family members nine times over the past two years. She mentioned widespread opposition to the tough-and-go airstrip plans, that included 100 e-mail messages, phone calls and visits to her office.

Fann said the Perkinses came from an old ranching family and believed they could do whatever they wanted with their property. Family members and friends packed the courtroom.

The court recessed after Fann’s testimony, and ranch shareholder Kelly Levine of Dewey took the stand as a witness. Levine was married to Michael Perkins, the late son of Tom and Marge Perkins, from 1987 through 2000, the year in which he died.

Levine, who formerly lived on the ranch, said she found about the airstrip’s construction in August and drove to the property at the end of the month.

Kolsrud asked, “Did you contact anybody at the ranch to find out what was going on?”

Levine responded that she called Town Hall, and later talked to Fann and to Levine’s attorney. She said that she asked whether the town had issued any permits for the airstrip.

Following Levine on the stand were John Olsen, an Embry-Riddle board member and former county supervisor; and Dan Main, who was mayor at the time of negotiations with the college.

Olsen said that he met several times with Main, now a real estate developer, to discuss plans for the touch-and-go airstrip.

“The mayor was very much in favor” of it, Olsen responded to a question from Kolsrud.

Main testified that he made a “personal offer” to buy the ranch, but the offer “fell apart.”

Contact the reporter at khedler@prescottaz.com

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