End of a Runway? Build those houses!

May 29, 2013 by Bruce Landsberg

aerial viewYou just have to wonder about the sanity of some people charged with developing communities. This article appeared in the Island Packet newspaper in Hilton Head, S.C. (bold print is added):

Hilton Head Committee to Consider Rezoning Near Airport
by Brian Heffernan

Owners of a failed 8.56-acre housing development off Beach City Road, not far from the Hilton Head Island Airport runway, are seeking a zoning change to allow for higher density residential redevelopment. The Planning and Development Standards Committee, which includes Town Council members, will review the rezoning application at 3 p.m. Wednesday at Town Hall.

The land is about 3,000 feet from the north end of the runway, within the airport’s approach path and partially within the outer hazard zone.

The Federal Aviation Administration, S.C. Aeronautics Commission, Beaufort County government, and town staff have all advised against increasing the property’s allowable density from the current four homes per acre to up to 12 homes per acre.

The town Planning Commission, however, voted 5-3 earlier this month to recommend the rezoning.

The owners, 217 Beach City Road LLC, say their lender will foreclose on the property if they are unable to rezone the development, called Beach City Place. Only one house has been built on the 32 planned lots since 2009. Rezoning for higher density could make it more economically viable, a Planning Commission member has said. The State Aeronautics Commission said a denser residential development that close to the runway would subject its tenants to “major safety and quality-of-life risks” and might make it difficult for the airport to get funding and permission for runway extensions. Some Planning Commission members, however, doubted whether the risk of chronic noise or an airplane crash on the property should keep the land from being rezoned.

Wanna bet that none of the planning commission members who voted on this incredibly ill-conceived idea will live in the affected area? The risk of a crash is small, but it’s there, and the noise impact is guaranteed! When the complaints invariably come in from residents who are foolish enough to move into such a development, do you think the developer or the planning commission members will take responsibility? They will be long gone, and somebody will say, “Mistakes were made—we’re sorry.” Wonder if “Errors and Omissions” insurance covers greed and economic self-interest? Hilton Head pilots and responsible residents, you need to speak up—now!

AOPA, through its Airports Division, works hard to block this lunacy nationwide, but we can’t do it without local support. The AOPA Foundation, working with the Airports division and local pilots, supports education programs showing that airports can be huge community assets and good neighbors, but building residential housing off the end of runways is just a bad idea no matter how much it may appear to help the tax base.

Watch your own community around the airport closely. AOPA’s Airport Support Network (ASN) volunteer program is the place to assist the existing volunteer or to become one yourself. Donations to the Foundation support these activities. It’s a good investment!

Bruce Landsberg
Senior Safety Advisor, Air Safety Institute

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  • A G Sandercock

    Someone needs to be looking at the bank accounts of those on the “committee” / “council” and “developers”. I would suspect some back room dealings going on here.

    Did I say that?

  • Hugh

    Have flown there enough to know it’s a good place to stay away from. 1st they tried to put in a landing fee for an airport mostly built and maintained from taxes paid by aircraft owners/pilots. That went away but is now hidden in what you pay the FBO for fuel. Now they want to surround their relatively short runway with people who most certainly will want the airport closed. There are many airports closely located to the Carolina coast where the people are much more accommodating and you are just as close to the water. Beaufort County, East Cooper in Charleston and Grand Strand in Myrtle Beach are just a few I’ve been to.

  • Kenneth Hetge

    Unfortunately, this type of illogical development has become endemic to small communities and their hometown airports. With the continued downward pressure on both the economy and general aviation, community leaders look at nothing more than potential building permit and tax revenues. You can present safety statistics, accident reports and scatter plots to those making decisions and what do you get? NOTHING! You are accused of presenting “scare tactics”, “don’t know what you are talking about”, and having “self serving interests”. As mentioned, when the first accident happens, the airport and pilots who use encroached upon airport are at blame. We all know who takes the brunt of the resulting action. Fellow Aviators, we must speak up now or be prepared to give up the activity that we all cherish. Take to the podium, write letters and most importantly GET INVOLVED. Go fly your airplane, visit your local airport a couple of times a week and use what your tax dollars have paid for. Remember the phrase, “use it or lose it”, because it clearly applies to general aviation and the conditions that impact it.