Santa Paula Airport

Saturday, February 5, 2005
Santa Paula Airport plan offers hangars as houses
By Kathleen Wilson
The Ventura County (CA) Star

Reg Pridmore can soar over Santa Paula Airport in his single-engine planes, tend a business on the premises, and fill a pair of hangars with just about anything he wants. Soon he may be able to live by the scenic airstrip, too.

Pridmore is one of 100 private pilots interested in buying into an aviation village proposed for a site lying east of the small airport. Along with a museum, the Santa Paula Air Park would offer 45 half-million-dollar units, each with a hangar on the ground floor and a residence above.

“I have my name in for two,” Pridmore said. The project targets private pilots who fly for the sport of it. Bunking at the airport is the natural next step.

“Even with the noise of planes coming and going, these guys don’t mind it,” said Heather Davis, an associate city planner who is reviewing the project. “This is their hobby. This is their joy.”

Many already have fixed up their hangars at the airport with the comforts of home, from couches and chairs to microwaves and refrigerators stocked with beer.

But they’re not allowed to live there legally under the privately owned airport’s rules. The development would allow them to combine homes for themselves with those for their planes.

They could live upstairs in two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo-style units. When they want to fly, they would roll their planes out of the hangars, steer them down a taxiway, and take off.

Bob Banman, 60, and Bill Lindsay, 30, are the Santa Paula developers banking that pilots will want to live where they play. The two have already received the approval of the Ventura County Transportation Commission but still must get permission from the city of Santa Paula and the Federal Aviation Agency.

More studies needed

Various studies and an environmental review must be completed before the project goes to the Santa Paula City Council in perhaps six months. Lindsay said construction could begin early next year and possibly take nine months to complete.

Air parks like this one are growing in popularity around the country, but this would be the first of its type in Ventura County, he said. The closest one like it is at Gillespie Field in El Cajon, Lindsay said.

Like the one proposed for Santa Paula, the one in El Cajon offers an aviation museum. The project was somewhat controversial because it combined living quarters with hangars, said Pete Drinkwater, director of San Diego County Airports.

He said the FAA approved the project, but the living quarters are not for full-time use. They are used by pilots on the weekends or while they’re working on their planes, Drinkwater said.

In Santa Paula, Lindsay expects most of the units would be purchased as primary homes, with couples being the most prevalent buyers.

The Santa Paula Air Park also would provide new quarters for an aviation museum displaying the vintage planes and memorabilia collected at the 1930 airport.

Banman sold the vacant site by the Santa Clara River to the museum at a discount and later agreed to develop it. Museum leaders said they hope proceeds from the hangar sales would generate $3 million for a three-story museum.

The new facility would complement the existing museum, which operates in a chain of hangars, museum board member Mike Dewey said.

He said supporters opened the museum in the late 1990s after finding that other museums were snapping up the airport’s vintage planes.

“We used to be known as the antique aviation capital of the U.S.,” Dewey said. “It has to be one of the oldest airports in the U.S. All of a sudden it became apparent we were losing airplanes. It was an astounding list of airplanes that drifted off. We woke up and said, ‘Why are we allowing this to happen? This is our heritage. This is the county’s heritage.’ ”

‘Great Little Airport’

Set between the Santa Clara River and Highway 126, the airport was founded on land damaged by the failure of the St. Francis Dam in 1928. Last year, it was lauded in the Smithsonian Air & Space magazine as one of the nation’s “Great Little Airports.” Supporters plan to celebrate its 75th anniversary in August.

But if museum backers like the Air Park, the operators of a machine shop that could be displaced are less thrilled.

Michl Tool Works is on a 1-acre slice of property next door that would be converted from light industrial to airport use under the developers’ proposal.

Owner Stephen Michl said the machine shop he has operated for 30 years would have to move or close. Both he and journeyman machinist Ed Eppenger said they had intended to stay there for the rest of their lives.

They’re not sure how they would move the aged, multi-ton equipment, let alone the enterprise where businesses turn for parts that are no longer on the market.

“I’m the last guy that makes pipe threads,” Eppenger said. “Everything else is computerized. Everything we do is in our brains.”

Patty Dickenson, a daughter-in-law of airport founder Ralph Dickenson, rents the space to Michl. Dickenson said she will do something with the property, but has no definite plans.

Although she is not a partner in the Air Park, the proposal under review would allow her to build residential hangars there. Dickenson said she approves of the Air Park.

“There’s developments all over the United States like it,” she said. “It will certainly help Santa Paula.”