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Thu, Feb 05, 2004

Big Win For Small Airport

AOPA Helps Squash Development Around W18 

Pilots from Suburban Airport (W18) in Laurel (MD) are enjoying the sweet smell of victory, thanks to some backing from the AOPA.

Airport supporters scored a major victory Monday night, when the county council refused to change zoning rules that would have allowed hundreds of condos and townhouses to be built on the airport.

More than 250 people jammed the Anne Arundel County Council chambers to witness the firey debate between the develpoer seeking the zoming change, AOPA representatives and the state's own aviation authority.

"Michael Cummins is the Airport Support Network volunteer for Suburban, and he did a superb job of organizing pilots and the surrounding community," said ASN Manager Mark Lowdermilk, who also attended and spoke at Monday night's meeting. "Our arguments that the airport preserves green space and prevents high-density population in an area that already lacks adequate infrastructure resonated with neighbors and council members alike."

Suburban is a privately owned airport with no federal grant obligations. It is under contract to a developer who wanted to build 641 condominium and townhouse units on the site but needed a zoning change in order to proceed.

As an incentive, the developer had promised that half of the units would be priced so that teachers, police officers, firefighters, and other public servants could afford them.

But neighbors argued that building that many homes in the midst of an already developed area would swamp local roads, schools, and other public facilities. In the end, the council member who represents the Suburban Airport area supported his constituents' wishes and refused to put forward a proposal to change the zoning. While they had the right to do so, none of the other council members backed a zoning change either.

The developer, the Polm Company, immediately said it would expand the airport to a 300-aircraft facility, in an effort to scare neighbors into thinking they would have an extremely busy airport in their backyards. But AOPA's Lowdermilk and Maryland's Director of Regional Aviation Assistance Bruce Mundie had already defused that argument, telling the council that the 56-acre site could not possibly house that many aircraft.

The Airport Support Network is made up of volunteers like Michael Cummins at over 1,500 airports nationwide. The volunteers act as AOPA's eyes and ears, alerting the association to any brewing problems, and acting as an advocate for the airport in the local community.

FMI:  www.suburbanairport.com

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