Zoning Codes: Protecting Small Airports

Welcome to the inaugural issue of the Calfee Flyer. The Flyer was conceived as a periodic newsletter covering topics of interest to our clients connected to the aviation industry. The Flyer isn’t intended to be headline news; rather, we’ll write about topics that interest those who fly aircraft, work on them, have businesses in the aviation industry, and otherwise deal with general aviation either as a vocation or an avocation.

The Flyer will be published by Jerry Eichenberger, Senior Counsel, Aviation Law, with assistance from other members of that practice group and will further draw in lawyers from across the firm to cover areas of interest. 

In the aviation world, one of the primary problems at small airports is encroaching development of what was once rural land. The typical small county or municipal airport began decades ago as a small airfield, miles from any population center. As time went by, development crept closer and closer to the airport. In some instances, this was fine, as the development was of the type that is compatible with airports. Having light industry, warehouses, trucking terminals, and similar uses of the land surrounding airports can create a very good mix. Each type of use supports and enhances the businesses of the others.

On the other hand, residential subdivisions often get built next to or very near to airports. In the beginning, all is well as the new neighbors seem to get along fine. The little airport that originally served small, single engine planes isn’t much of a concern to the residents of the houses that encroach upon what had been pastoral, rural land. But like everything else, the airport and the residential development change. As time goes by, larger airplanes begin to use the airport and a local company that became successful acquires a business jet. Now the fight starts.

The company owning the jet is important to the community. It employs a good number of local citizens, and its business reaches beyond the borders of the small town, or even the section of a larger city where the airport is located. The main purpose of a business airplane is to save time. Trips that used to take two or three days by car can be completed in a long day with a corporate jet. But to do that, departures are often in the early morning, and the return trip may well arrive back at the home airport in the evening.

Now the neighboring residents hear both the jet's morning departure and its evening return. Some of those residents aren’t happy, as the character of the airport is changing, and not to their liking. The stage is now set for discontent and probable litigation between the airport and the neighbors.

Like most situations in business and life in general, a dose of foresight can solve the problem if taken in time. There are a few effective ways to prevent residential development from getting too close to an airport. One of them is airport protective zoning. A properly developed and enacted zoning code can restrict land uses around an airport to those that are compatible, as mentioned above. There is no need to have a controversy between the airport and its neighbors if the neighbors are land users whose use complements the airport, rather than being at odds with it.

Of course, the zoning needs to be in place before the storm gathers and the houses or apartment complexes are built. But depending upon the unique circumstances of any particular airport, some protection will be better than none, even after development has begun.

Don’t hesitate to contact us if any of these problems exist at your airport, of if you see them brewing. The attorney below would be pleased to chat about your situation, or feel free to contact your regular Calfee attorney.


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