A flight advocate fears new homes and a water park slated for the corner of Linne and Corral Hollow roads could be the beginning of the end of the Tracy Municipal Airport.
It’s yet another sign that some airport proponents feel city officials neglect what they see as an underused jewel of an airport in south Tracy.
But that attitude puzzles people such as Rod Buchanan, the interim head of the parks department who oversees the airport. He pointed out that Tracy has hired a full-time employee to manage the airport and pumped more than $1 million into it in the past few years — with the federal government paying more than $924,000 of that.
"We want to bring more activity at the airport," Buchanan said.
Still, for pilot, mechanic and airport association board member Denny Presley and some others who use the airport, the proposed subdivision and water park are no ordinary threats to what goes on at the airport — or to what might take place there in the future.
The biggest problem that Presley sees is that homes and the water park will be built in restricted air space under the flight path of their airport’s main runway.
Homes are the enemy of little airports such as Tracy Municipal.
The city is trying to negotiate a deal with builder Les Serpa of The Surland Cos. that will give him the rights to build 2,250 homes northwest of the airport — and another 1,600 somewhere else in the city — in exchange for 21 acres of land and a $20 million Surland donation to the city so it can build a water park.
But more people near the airport are the last thing pilots want to see — because the last thing homeowners want to see and hear are low-flying airplanes buzzing over their rooftops.
"We don’t like it," said Eric Rode Olsen of Skyview Aviation, a concessionaire that runs a flight school at the airport.
Skyview wrote a letter to the city asking officials to keep in mind that the business hopes to one day open a restaurant there and has contracts starting in 2009 to bring in 30 new students annually who will likely live in Tracy while they learn to fly, an economic boost to the city.
A lengthening debate
Also, like many pilots at the airport, Skyview officials hope that the city will one day lengthen its main runway another 450 feet so about half the corporate jets and turbo-propeller planes in existence can land there, instead of the roughly 10 percent to 20 percent of those aircraft that the airport can handle now.
Corporate jets would mean big business for the airport, Presley says.
But there are physical obstacles at the 300-acre airport that would make paving another 450 feet of runway a very expensive job.
The airport has two runways, a main strip that runs northwest-southeast, and another that runs east-west.
Any runway extension west of the airport would run into the Delta Mendota Canal, and east of the property is Tracy Boulevard, and farther east, a gravel pit that would have to be filled in before more the city paves more runway.
And the city would have to buy out businesses if the city juts the main runway northward.
In any case, Buchanan sees it unlikely that Tracy could out-compete other airports for federal grant money to build longer landing and take-off strips, given the expense.
At a workshop on the proposed homes and aquatics center on Tuesday, Presley told the City Council and Planning Commission that the city should abide by the contract it signed with the federal government in 1946.
That agreement says the city shall prevent any use of land that would be a hazard to landings and take-offs.
Separately, in comments made in response to an environmental report meant to outline the effects of Surland’s proposed subdivision, Presley tried to poke holes in the study.
He claimed a consultant hired by the city failed to properly study how much noise residents of those future homes would have to deal with when the consultant concluded that excessive noise is unavoidable and that there’s nothing anyone needs do about it.
He also disagrees with a city claim that the plan for the water park and homes is compatible with "airport uses" and "safety requirements," and Presley calls a statement that the subdivision will properly restrict what can be built under the runway’s approach for incoming planes "blatantly inaccurate."
Presley says part of the swimming center, commercial buildings and homes will be built under an approach zone that a 1993 airport land use plan says is supposed to be limited to 10 people per acre.
That same plan bars under the runway approach more than two homes per acre, most commerce, and recreation such as playgrounds and athletic fields, he argues, though swimming pools are not mentioned.
What the city will have to say about Presley’s criticism, and others who took shots at the environmental study, remains to be seen.
The city is still preparing its response to comments on the report. Serpa said he’ll wait to see what the city says before he talks about criticism of the subdivision.
The Federal Aviation Administration could put its foot down and nix a subdivision if it felt it would harm the airport, but the agency has a poor record of keeping encroachment at bay near small airports, according to a 1999 report by the Government Accountability Office.
"Unauthorized use has resulted in the loss or diversion of millions of dollars in airport revenues from general aviation airports, typically owned by a local government," the reports states.