The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association is taking a stand against the first major development project planned for the city’s airport overlay zone.
Mark Baker, AOPA president, submitted a letter to the mayor and Board of Aldermen in mid-August outlining his objections to changing the zoning of the Renn Farm.
The AOPA supports keeping the area zoned light industrial, but the proposed development requires mixed-use zoning to accommodate its residential component.
The correspondence suggested that a zoning change may threaten federal grant funding at the airport because the Federal Aviation Administration requires grant applicants to “zone and use other measures to restrict the use of land in the vicinity of the airport to activities and purposes compatible with normal aircraft operations.”
“The property is developed in such proximity to the airport that if you put residential property there it is a precursor to noise complaints at the airport,” said Adam Williams, AOPA manager for airport policy. “The place to put a stop to that slippery slope is at this stage.”
The airport relies heavily on federal funding for eligible projects. For example, the FAA provides 90 percent of the funding for runway extension.
An FAA spokeswoman said she was aware of the Renn Farm project but could not comment specifically about how it might affect the agency’s ability to provide grant funding to the airport.
“The FAA also requires an airport sponsor to control land use adjacent to the airport when possible,” spokeswoman Arlene Salac wrote in an email. “The FAA also evaluates ... airports’ compliance with grant assurances associated with land use issues.”
Push for progress
The Renn Farm development, as proposed by developer Matan Cos., calls for 1,050 multifamily buildings, town houses, cottages and houses, along with 105,000 square feet of nonresidential use and 24.1 acres of dedicated parkland.
Because the development is in the airport overlay zone, anything built over 100 feet tall would be subject to FAA evaluation.
Concerns raised by Airport Commission members and the AOPA target the residential portion of the development specifically. But several market studies and analyses of future opportunities for residential and nonresidential development of the land indicated that development of the 200-acre site could include more than the exclusively industrial business permitted under its current zoning, according to Karl Morris, director of development for Matan Cos.
“The studies on the property indicated that mixed-use was the best use for the property versus industrial uses, and therefore creates an opportunity to produce a mixed-use traditional neighborhood design,” Morris wrote in an email.
Project plans — residential use included — also fit with the development plans outlined by East Frederick Rising in its 2011 vision plan, Morris wrote.
Matan’s proposal includes less dense residential development of the property than the vision plan outlined, according to state Sen. Ron Young, an East Frederick Rising board member. In the five years since the plan was published, Young said he hadn’t heard any objections to residential development on the farm.
“This is kind of coming out of left field,” he said of the recent concerns voiced by airport groups.
As the volunteer group begins anew its efforts to bring development to the east side of the city, Young said setbacks to the Renn Farm project could paralyze efforts across the region.
“It would devastate it,” Young said of the possibility that the mayor and aldermen vote against the rezoning request and site plans. “It would have a lot of impacts on the whole area that I don’t think would be good.”
The final vote on the requested rezoning and site plans has not been set. City officials will vote to set conditions for the property's rezoning at their next public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 17. The developers have 90 days after the vote to accept or reject the conditions, with a final vote on the rezoning to follow. The meeting will include an opportunity for residents to give feedback and discussion among city officials before they vote.
Several aldermen expressed concern at an August workshop meeting about the potentially negative consequences of building houses and town houses so close to the airport.
Alderman Michael O’Connor said last week that he was still weighing the advantages and possible downsides to the project.
O’Connor said the best solution would be to craft rezoning requirements that would allow the project to move forward while establishing protections for the airport and future residents.
“If I’m going to vote to rezone, I have to believe those protections are adequate,” he said.
Alderman Phil Dacey, though, said he didn’t want to do anything that would derail the project from moving forward.
“I think the project Matan has put together will be a really positive thing for the city,” he said. “I’m still hopeful we can work out a solution that will satisfy everybody.”
Correction: This story has been updated to correct details of the upcoming vote at the Sept. 17 city meeting.