Thursday, December 16, 2004
Mix of homes and runways
Douglas Park Approval Means Airport Concerns Will be More Complex.
The Long Beach (CA) Press-Telegram
The Boeing Co. Douglas Park project, which could nestle as many as 11,000 jobs and 4,000 residents alongside the nation’s fifth busiest airport, has won city approval after two years of controversy. Most city officials are pleased; many neighbors are not. The neighbors had a real worry, although they mostly tip-toed around it. Much of their opposition centered around the close proximity of the residential part of the project and the runways of Long Beach Airport. But their real concern wasn’t for the safety and peace of mind of Douglas Park residents, it was for their own property values.
The real issue for the community as a whole is very different. What if the residents of this proposed development, which would have about one-third of the population of nearby Signal Hill, were to get fed up with increasing aircraft noise and elect a council representative who felt that way too?
Then Long Beach, which now has three and sometimes four anti-airport votes on the City Council, could have four and sometimes a majority of five. That, plus potential lawsuits, is the sort of thing that bothers the FAA.
In the end, the FAA did not oppose the project. But the point is clear. The airport was built partly with federal funds, and it is here to stay. Most everyone hopes the city’s noise ordinance will keep commercial flights down to 41 a day, plus a potential of 25 commuter flights, but most also hope this will happen with minimal strife and litigation.
Interestingly, the anti-airport members of the council all voted to approve Douglas Park. Probably they felt this project was better than some they could imagine. Only Councilwoman Jackie Kell, whose district includes many of the unhappy neighbors, opposed the residential part of the project.
It does seem odd to allow residential construction so close to busy runways. The airport’s northernmost east-west runway, which is the closest, handles about 30,000 flights a year, almost all of it small but noisy planes. The big commercial jets, arriving and departing on the longer diagonal runway, will be less of an issue.
Maybe we’re wrong about the mix of airport and housing. One City Hall insider familiar with Boeing’s plans says he’s thinking about buying one of the proposed condominiums, if he can afford it. He isn’t worried about property values, or noise either, for that matter.
The residential plans, much scaled back from earlier proposals, call for 250 apartments, with the balance of the 1,400 units to be made up of single-family homes and townhouses. Half of the townhouses will be reserved for seniors. Of the project’s 260 acres, 12 would be park and open space. The commercial portions would include a 400-room hotel, 200,000 feet of retail space, and 3.3 million square feet of space for office, research, industrial and aviation uses.
That last part of the project everybody likes. The only quibble is whether the commercial activity would really generate as many as 11,000 well-paying jobs. Whatever the number, this will become a major asset of the community.