Business & Economy

Lincoln denies Beta Technologies founder Kyle Clark an airstrip at his home

Kyle Clark preparing for test flight
Kyle Clark, the founder of Beta Technologies, prepares for a test flight in Plattsburgh, New York. Photo courtesy of Beta Technologies

Beta Technologies founder Kyle Clark will not be able to land his planes at his Lincoln home.

In a 7-1 decision signed Wednesday, the town’s zoning board of adjustment voted to deny Clark a permit for a landing strip with a 1,500-foot grass runway on his 130-acre property.

Lincoln’s zoning administrator had issued Clark a permit in March. A neighbor, Marilyn Ganahl, appealed that decision, citing concerns about her rescue horses and dogs and the potential disruption of a monarch butterfly sanctuary on her property. She also said she feared her property would decline in value if air traffic in the area increased. 

Over the course of four hearings and in written testimony, other neighbors testified that landings and takeoffs at Clark’s home would disturb their animals and their peace and would lower their property values.

But other neighbors supported Clark, arguing that he had a constitutional right to use his property as he saw fit. They also said that the aircraft would cause no more noise than passing firetrucks, a neighbor working with a chainsaw, a farmer running a hay baler or a mechanic revving an engine. They maintained that Clark was proposing enough of a buffer around the airstrip to ensure that he would not disturb their animals. 

Clark would not have been the only person in Lincoln with a private landing area. There is another landing strip at another property, Maule’s Roost, and United Therapeutics founder Martine Rothblatt has a helipad at her home. 

The Zoning Board of Adjustment based its denial of Clark’s permit on whether an airstrip constituted an accessory use to a residential property. Lincoln zoning regulations identify accessory use as customarily incidental to principal use of a property. 

“Therefore, the sole question before this Board is whether airplane landing strips are customarily incidental to single-family homes,” the board wrote in its decision, quoting from written arguments submitted by both sides.

In reaching its decision, the board considered whether Clark’s landing strip “will actually be of minor consequence to neighbors or is a numerically consistent use regionally or statewide among residential properties.”

The board concluded that not enough conclusive evidence was presented that the airstrip would be of minor consequence to neighbors. It found that because Clark did not specify the type of aircraft that would use his airstrip and the number of takeoffs and landings, he had not met his burden to demonstrate that the airstrip would not bother neighbors. 

And while Clark presented a list of 46 private airstrips in Vermont and the Vermont Transportation Board lists 78 such airstrips, the Lincoln board concluded the two lists provided inconclusive evidence of how many of those landing strips are operating as accessory to dwelling units. 

A lone dissenter on the board, Barry Olson, supported Clark. Olson concluded that because the area of the airstrip would basically appear as it does now, with mowed grass and the removal of some trees, it would not have a big impact. Olson also concluded that nothing in the Lincoln zoning regulations requires a homeowner to apply to the Zoning Board of Adjustment before being issued a permit for an accessory use to a home. He also argued that regulating aircraft noise is solely up to the federal government. 

A spokesperson for Beta Technologies declined to comment.

Attorneys for Clark and Ganahl and Zoning Board of Adjustment members did not immediately respond to emails and a phone call requesting comment.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect number for private airstrips on the Vermont Transportation Board's list.

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Fred Thys

About Fred

Fred Thys covers business and the economy for VTDigger. He is originally from Bethesda, Maryland, and graduated from Williams College with a degree in political science. He is the recipient of the Radio, Television, and Digital News Association's Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting and for Enterprise Reporting. Fred has worked at The Journal of Commerce, ABC News, CBS News, CNN, NBC News, and WBUR, and has written for Le Matin, The Dallas Morning News, and The American Homefront Project.

Email: fthys@vtdigger.org

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