Thursday, January 12, 2006
County planners OK new airpark conditions
By LISA WAHLA HOWARD
The Antelope Valley (CA) Valley Press
LOS ANGELES – On a 3-2 vote, county planning commissioners approved a new set of conditions Wednesday for Agua Dulce Airpark that will allow new hangars, a 20-unit airtel and expanded restaurant hours. The decision was a victory for airpark owner Wayne Spears, though it is sure to be appealed to the Board of Supervisors by airpark opponents.
Spears volunteered to prohibit jets and planes over 30,000 pounds, and those provisions will be written into the final version of the conditions, county planner Sam Dea said.The Regional Planning Commission will vote on the final conditions, most likely as a consent item, at a future meeting.
The vote capped a yearlong public hearing process prompted by a request from Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich to the commission to review the small airport’s decades-old permit and consider revoking or modifying it.
Antonovich, whose 5th district includes the Antelope Valley, issued the request after receiving complaints about airpark and pilot activities.
His appointee to the Regional Planning Commission, Pat Modugno, voted against approving the conditions, and instead pushed a compromise plan that would limit the expansion to less than what is allowed under the current permit.
While one commissioner agreed with Modugno’s idea, another objected to another round of public hearings that would be forced by such new conditions.
“We do not want to continue the angst in the community with another series of public forums where the acrimony would continue,” said Commissioner Esther Valadez, also responding to a suggestion that the airpark operator and community work together on a compromise. “We’ve done the best we can with the division in the community and in the Planning Commission itself – we have a significant difference of opinions.”
A fourth commissioner, Wayne Rew, noted concern that Modugno’s suggestion could put the county at risk of legal action by Spears.
“The supervisor’s charge to us was to consider revocation and modification, and modification puts everything on the table,” Modugno responded. “If not, what was the purpose of putting it over to us?”
Modugno agreed with airpark opponents on their contention that the expansion allowed under the permit should be scrutinized carefully for environmental impacts, since it was approved decades ago before current environmental laws.
But Spears, in his first time addressing the commission in person, said he believes the airport is entitled to all that is allowed under the permit.
Spears acknowledged that some pilots are “not doing what they’re supposed to do,” but later added, “It’s nothing like you hear here from the opposition.”
He said he has put up signs that tell pilots to not engage in acrobatic flying or formation flying.
“I moved there because the airport was there – but not under the flight plan,” he said, in a reference to airpark opponents who complain about low-flying airplanes. “It’s not realistic to move into the flight plan and think nothing’s ever going to happen.”
Under the conditions approved Wednesday, the airpark will be allowed to build 55 storage hangars, four service hangars, two maintenance hangars and an additional aircraft tie-down area. A not-yet-built 20-room airtel is allowed, along with expanded restaurant hours of 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. for the airtel restaurant.
Spears offered to ban jets after county attorneys decided that the old permit’s ban on jets and night flying was preempted by federal law, since the Federal Aviation Administration controls the skies.
Upon hearing that, airpark opponents called for the permit’s revocation, citing its provision that states if any provision is deemed invalid, the permit shall be void.
But county attorney Lawrence Hafetz on Wednesday said that because the provisions have not been deemed invalid by a court, the permit does not need to be considered void.
Attorney Lloyd Kirschbaum, representing one airpark opponent, actress Park Overall, said that if an appeal to the Board of Supervisors isn’t successful, the issue is “ripe for a lawsuit.”
The possible lawsuit would argue that “the permit isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, and we’re back to square one,” Kirschbaum said. “It seems we’ll end up with all this effort wasted.”
Wednesday’s decision was cheered by appreciative airpark fans in the standing-room-only hearing room, many of whom again traveled downtown to the meeting on chartered buses.