Mojave Airport- Building Under the Flight Path

Thursday, March 17, 2005
Board objects to proposed apartments near flight path
Directors opposed to location, not to housing project itself
The Antelope Valley (CA) Press

MOJAVE – Hoping to send a message to Kern County supervisors and planners that they have concerns over the impact of future development on the Mojave Airport’s activities, the East Kern Airport District board of directors agreed Tuesday to appeal a decision to allow apartments to be built beneath the airport flight path. “Encroachment is the No. 1 danger to airports,” said Director Dick Rutan, and the board has a responsibility to thwart projects that may prevent the airport from successfully carrying out its flight activities.

The proposed apartment development for moderate-income housing is located near Oak Creek Street and Holt Road, west of the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks. The site is situated off the west end of one of the airport runways.

The project is “by no means assured,” EKAD General Manager Stu Witt said, pending state funding. That state funding requires that the housing be one mile or less from a grocery store, which dictated the project’s position.

The district board of directors, represented by Witt, protested the project at a March 3 Kern County planning hearing, during which the project gained approval.

In his comments to the hearing, Witt emphasized that the district board does not oppose the project itself, but its location.

Approval was granted by hearing officer James Ellis, who found the project to be well-designed and consistent with county plans and zoning ordinances.

The approval included the conditions that the developer – CFY Development – submit the plans to the airport district for review and comment before building permits are issued and include a stipulation that future owners be notified that the property is subject to noise impact from airport operations.

Joining Witt in speaking against the proposed development were airport tenant XCOR Aerospace and Bill Deaver of the Mojave Town Council and Chamber of Commerce.

Because the project has been approved by the Kern County Planning Department, the district’s appeal is to the Kern County Board of Supervisors.

“I believe it’s important we take a stand and let the Board of Supervisors know how we feel,” Director JoAnn Painter said.

By appealing the decision to the Kern County Board of Supervisors, the airport district will force supervisors to take a stand on the issue, Rutan said. This in itself is beneficial, regardless of the outcome of the appeal.

In deciding to appeal the decision, board members stated that they support growth and development in the community in general, but that the position of this particular project is a threat to the airport and may harm its ability to function as a major economic engine for the area.

The issue of adequate housing is important to the airport’s success as well, as it is needed to support the facility’s growing workforce, Witt said.

“This is just the beginning. We are going to be dealing with this (in the future),” he said. “These are good problems to have,” in that it means both the town and the airport are growing.

Whether or not this project goes forward, the issue is a chance for the district to re-examine the zoning ordinances affecting the airport.

“We need to review the zoning. It’s a good wake-up call for everyone. If we don’t take action, we’re going to lose the airport,” Rutan said.

Two years ago Kern County approved the Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan, which governs zoning and land use around the county’s airports and military facilities, as part of the Mojave Specific Plan. The airport plan was created with input from EKAD.

At the time of its passage, Witt said he was pleased with the resulting specific plan and believed it would stave off encroachment on the airport.

This project is the first in Mojave to come up for review under the plan. The funding constraints on the developer regarding its placement have revealed “an unanticipated consequence of the R-2 zoning of that area,” Witt said.

At Tuesday’s EKAD meeting, Witt said the board has been inconsistent in presenting its position before the county Planning Department, something that must be corrected in the future.

In agreeing to appeal the planning decision to the board of supervisors, the district directors also agreed to re-examine zoning around the airport.

“We should be more positive in helping to define areas that are appropriate for building,” Painter said.