CENTENNIAL — Colorado’s general aviation airports provide a nearly $2 billion shot in the arm for the Denver metro area every year.
But in the face of a growing population and increasing pressures to erect new homes on available land, these airfields — which handle cargo planes to corporate jets to small prop planes — must work hard to maintain a buffer around their runways that deters encroachment and makes for good relations with neighbors.
This week, Centennial Airport and Vance Brand Airport in Longmont had to stake out positions against several new housing developments proposed on their outskirts — with mixed success.
Monday, Centennial City Council voted in favor of a rezoning for the 72-unit Peakview Village at Centennial at East Peakview Avenue and South Uvalda Street but rejected a larger residential development known as Centennial Cityscapes a little farther west, at South Kenton Street.
Two days later, the Longmont Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously sent on an annexation proposal to the City Council in aid of a 27-unit housing development to be located just over a mile from the airport’s runway, despite objections from the head of the airport advisory board.
“The Airport Advisory Board … does not support the construction of a residential development within the Airport Influence Zone due to the known noise impacts associated with the traffic pattern at Vance Brand Airport,” chairman Don Dolce wrote to city planners in a letter this year.
It’s that quality of life concern — largely encompassed by noise complaints from neighbors living under or close to flight paths — that prompted Centennial Mayor Cathy Noon to vote against the Cityscapes proposal this week.
“I’m an advocate of being very cautious,” Noon said. “Let’s not put people in a position of conflict.”
Statistics from the airport show just how sensitive a topic noise has become near Centennial Airport recently. In 2014, there were 2,956 complaints from 307 households. A year later, that number had more than doubled to 6,636 complaints from 281 households. So far in 2016, more than 7,000 noise complaints have been tallied from 184 households.
While the numbers indicate that more repeat complaints are coming from a smaller subset of households, the dissatisfaction was enough to prompt Robert Olislagers, the airport’s executive director, to urge the council Monday to withhold its blessing from the two residential projects.
“Our concern was the quality of life for future residents,” Olislagers told The Denver Post. “It comes down to balancing the needs of the community and the needs of the airport.”
That’s a typical struggle for general aviation airports in Colorado’s urban areas, said David Ulane, director of the Colorado Division of Aeronautics. And it’s one they must keep up if they don’t want to face the uncertain future the Santa Monica Municipal Airport faces in California. Heavy development all around that airport spurred city leaders last month to set a closure date of July 2018 for the facility near Los Angeles, though the city can expect a fierce fight from the Federal Aviation Administration over that plan.
A more familiar example to Coloradans of an airport that was overrun by its surroundings was Stapleton International Airport in Denver. Though not a general aviation facility, Stapleton saw so much urban development grow up around it by the late 1980s that city leaders knew they had to find a large chunk of vacant land far out on the fringes of the metro area to build a new airport where noise and congestion wouldn’t be an issue.
“Airports all over the place are faced with that kind of challenge,” Ulane said. “It’s where you see resistance from airports — they are simply trying to protect their investment.”
Such investment that benefits the entire state. According to a 2013 report issued by the Colorado Aeronautics Division, the state’s 60 general aviation airports generated $2.4 billion in economic activity per year while netting $85 million in tax revenues.
Centennial Airport, which opened in 1968, is Colorado’s busiest general aviation airport and is in the top five nationally, with 320,000 takeoffs and landings in 2015, Olislagers said. The airport has worked hard not just with Centennial over land use considerations but with Lone Tree, Arapahoe County and Greenwood Village.
“All these communities recognize how important the airport is to providing jobs and a high quality of life,” he said.
Vance Brand, which turned 70 last year, has a “good working relationship” with Longmont when it comes to keeping developments surrounding the airport compatible, said airport manager David Slayter. While the proposed Peakview Estates project at Fordham Street and Ninth Avenue is not “the most compatible use” of that property, Slayter said it won’t directly affect Vance Brand’s operations.
Like the airport in Longmont, Centennial predates most of the homes that surround it by decades. It’s why Cathy Roll, who has lived in the Cherry Creek Vista South neighborhood for nearly 20 years, doesn’t sweat the everyday engine noise overhead.
“It ends up being more like white noise to me,” she said Thursday, as she embarked on a walk with her two dogs at the very moment a small plane took off from Centennial Airport and soared northbound over her neighborhood. “You moved next to an airport — you’re going to have noise.”
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