Rialto OKs Plans to Close Airport

Wednesday, December 7, 2005
Rialto OKs plans to close airport
City looking to the future of freeway expansion in area
By Nikki Cobb
The Inland Valley (CA) Daily Bulletin

RIALTO – With development creeping inexorably eastward, and a sizzling housing market reaching its height, Rialto officials have a luxury many cities would envy: Deciding how best to plan 1,200 acres of real estate, much of it fronting the future 210 Freeway. Tuesday night, the City Council took the first steps toward demolishing an obstacle to developing the property. In a unanimous vote, the council approved a preliminary resolution to close the Rialto Municipal Airport and to map out its future use.

“The 210 is a key component,” said Robb Steel, Rialto economic development director. “This is the last sizable freeway frontage east of Fontana.”

The conceptual master plan sketches a vision for mixed-use development, with areas devoted to light industrial, business, commercial and civic uses, as well as 2,500 homes.

The Federal Aviation Administration has fought the airport’s closure in the past. The city received more than $15 million from 1968 to 2001 from the Federal Aviation Administration – but thanks to the Federal Highway Bill, signed by President Bush in August, Rialto is free to sell the airport.

“The special legislation passed authorized the closure of that airport,” said Allen Kenitzer, FAA spokesman. “We’re really out of it.”

Developer Lewis-Hillwood Rialto LLC plans 470 acres of light industrial uses, 230 acres of retail and commercial uses, 100 acres of office space, 50 acres of institutional and public facilities, 350 acres of housing, and two elementary schools and parks totaling 43 acres.

Steel said the freeway frontage is critical. It’ll be prime for commercial development, he said, and that brings sales tax dollars to the city.

“A key component for us is maximizing the commercial where we can. We’re planting the seed now,” Steel said.

With Tuesday night’s decision, the council directed city staff to create a more detailed plan for the land.

At least a year of intense planning will follow. Steel said it could be three or four years before airport tenants have been relocated to the San Bernardino International Airport and final plans and zoning are finished.

The 210 Freeway extension is slated for completion in 2007. To maximize use of the four-mile stretch, Rialto imposed a building moratorium in December 2004 on land along the highway and around the airport.

Judy Scholl, owner of Art Scholl Aviation at the Rialto airport, said she’s come to see the benefits to relocating to the San Bernardino airport – for herself and for her city.

“Looking at the big picture, long-term down the road there’s no support for the (Rialto) airport,” Scholl said. “This is a benefit for San Bernardino, and we’re kind of excited about going over there.”

Editor’s Note:
Money talks and pilots walk. This is another bad decision which will become apparent long term, after it’s too late.

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