The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday March 25th

Horace Williams Airport hazard zone may see new changes

At a Chapel Hill public hearing Monday, Eric Feld of the Planning and Sustainability Department presented a proposal that would change the airport hazard zone of the Horace Williams Airport. 

“What we proposed at the public hearing was to take the current (airport hazard zone) district and separate it into three sub-districts,” Feld said. 

Airport hazard zones are areas surrounding airports where there is potential for flight risks. These hazards are monitored by local ordinances that limit the height and size of buildings. 

“The impetus for the recent actions for the airport is that someone just so happens to want to make a retirement community (in the airport hazard zone)” Feld said. 

The new retirement center, which is being developed by the Hawthorn Development LLC, will be located between Somerset Drive and Phillips Middle School, which could be in sub-district B, should the proposal eventually pass. 

The proposal divides the airport hazard zone into three sub-districts, with each district subject to different sets of rules. 

In sub-district B Feld said they would want to limit any forms of radio interference from affecting the plans, and new buildings would be required to have specific lights and markings installed on the roof. 

In April, Hawthorn proposed an amendment to the town ordinances governing airport hazard zones to allow construction of the retirement center. 

Soon after this proposal Whit Rummel, the owner of the property where Hawthorn is developing, proposed his own amendment. The joint proposals convinced the town council to order a study on the entirety of the airport hazard zone, which led to Feld’s proposal Monday. 

Feld said the airport’s existence has been an annoyance to neighbors for years, and the need to follow the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and town codes has been a hindrance on development of land. 

“You know, I think it's time to develop the land out there," said Town Council member Maria Palmer. "It's very valuable."

Palmer said she is not against the proposed changes as long as they comply with the FAA.

“I have no concerns; however, the airport is 100 feet from the middle school and that’s always been something that’s worried me," she said. "But I don’t think moving the ordinance line will make much of a difference.”

The change in ordinance is also a sign of the airport’s impending closure. In 2002, the UNC Board of Trustees announced it would eventually close the airport in order to build the future Carolina North campus.

“We recognized that the airport is likely to close at some point … as an implementation step, (the airport hazard zones) should either be eliminated or modified,” Feld said.

Rudy Juliano of the Coker Hills Neighborhood Association said he is concerned the construction of taller buildings would affect the safety of his neighborhood and the middle school children. 

“My neighborhood is right beneath where the planes fly," he said. "I think it’s very important that buildings do not interfere with the flight path. I’m not an expert, but it's common sense.”

The new retirement center’s height will be 50 feet or less, but these new development rules might open up new opportunities for the development that Juliano is worried about. 


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