AOPA is urging officials in Frederick, Maryland, to oppose a real estate developer’s bid to rezone farmland near the city’s airport, citing the city’s obligation as a recipient of federal airport grants to ensure compatible land use in the airport’s vicinity.
The Frederick Board of Aldermen and the mayor should support the position taken by the city airport commission in opposition to the rezoning ordinance, AOPA President Mark Baker wrote in a letter to Frederick Mayor Randy McClement. AOPA’s national headquarters is located at the Frederick Municipal Airport.
The next public hearing on the rezoning proposal is expected to occur in September, said Adam Williams, AOPA manager of airport policy. The rezoning of farm land known as the Renn Property is sought by the Matan Companies, a regional real-estate services and development firm with numerous projects in the Frederick area. Changing the land’s zone designation from light industrial to mixed-use could bring about construction of a large number of dwelling units beneath a portion of the airport traffic pattern, according to preliminary site planning.
"There are many unfortunate examples of airports that were permanently closed because incompatible land use was allowed to propagate in the areas surrounding the airport," Baker wrote. "It is up to the city to prevent incompatible land use through appropriate zoning and enforcement."
Not only would the development plan place housing directly beneath arrival and departure flight paths, Baker noted, but the property is also frequently overflown, at low altitude, by helicopters—a likely source of future objections from new residents.
"Although those residing in the development would be made aware of the airport in advance, the City should expect complaints from the residents over aircraft noise and safety concerns," Baker wrote.
AOPA has actively opposed the rezoning proposal, and submitted comments critical of the plan following a planning commission workshop in December 2014. The planning commission voted to recommend approval of the rezoning.
AOPA also has met with local officials and Matan representatives, and continues to work to educate them about the land-compatibility concern and the city’s related obligations—the so-called grant assurances—it agreed to as a condition of accepting federal aid for the municipal airport.
Baker noted that the city of Frederick "has done well to protect and grow" the airport into one of the largest in Maryland and an economic engine that supports 1,059 jobs generating $59 million in personal income. For the city, the airport provided economic benefit of more than $151 million from local purchases, business revenue, and taxes, according to a 2014 study, making it "an economic engine worth protecting."
The compatible land-use issue is not unique to AOPA’s home base. In several states, AOPA has recently confronted efforts to weaken or eliminate airport zoning laws. Other examples of the land-use compatibility conflict have surfaced in California, where a charter school was proposed 1.4 miles from the San Carlos Airport, under its traffic pattern; and in Pasco, Washington, where AOPA objected to an amendment of the county’s comprehensive plan that would allow residential housing adjacent to planning areas known as airport overlay district zones.