El Paso County's new rules could affect area airports' expansion plans

by WAYNE HEILMAN wayneh@gazette.com - Updated: January 17, 2014 at 2:48 pm • Published: January 16, 2014 | 6:25 pm 0

El Paso County Commissioners have approved new regulations that could require the city-owned Colorado Springs Airport to get a county permit for major expansions or other changes affecting nearby property in the county.

Airport officials say they're concerned, because the rules could slow future projects.

The rules, which apply to all airports in the county, require a special permit for expansions that include acquiring land or extending runways. The rules also would apply to any changes that would allow use of larger or noisier aircraft; increase traffic that would affect nearby areas; make major alterations in lighting; or create or expand navigation, safety or noise zones.

Commissioners unanimously approved the new rules Dec. 17, but delayed the effective date until March 11, based on concerns from Colorado Springs officials and representatives from Meadow Lake Airport near Falcon. The delay will allow a group of city, county and Meadow Lake officials to work out any concerns about the new rules. County officials say any amendments must be drafted and included in public notices by Feb. 9.

An eight-page memo from Britt Haley, corporate division chief in the City Attorney's Office, said the new regulations exceed any authority the county has under state law. She also said the rules are "vaguely drafted" and some conflict with federal regulations. For example, the memo says the rules provide no "objective, threshold criteria" that define a significant increase in traffic at the airport, and they aren't clear about whether they cover any area near the airport or just those outside the city.

"It is a matter of duplication and confusion. The rules don't mesh well with Federal Aviation Administration regulations," said Dan Gallagher, the interim director of the Colorado Springs Airport. "We don't want vagueness when we are trying to attract new business to the airport."

The rules were adopted as part of a process commissioners began about a year ago to give them a say in major projects that are undertaken outside the normal jurisdiction of the county's unincorporated areas. Such rules are allowed under House Bill 1041, enacted by the Colorado Legislature in 1974 to give counties and municipalities a say in projects of statewide impact that might affect their areas.

Mark Gebhart, deputy director of the county's Development Services Department, said the rules - which also apply to roads and mass transit facilities - stemmed from preliminary discussions last year about routing a light rail line through the Black Forest area and a 2005 plan to build a superhighway through eastern El Paso County. Without adopting regulations under HB1041, the county would have no role in approving or rejecting routes and sites for major roads, mass-transit facilities and airports, he said.

"The Colorado Springs Airport does not have to get a permit unless an expansion leads to a change in land use outside the city. An example would be if a runway was extended, noise and other impacts could affect property owners who would have no voice in the process without these (rules)," Gebhart said. "The county is not trying to tell the city how to run the airport. If (the airport) has an impact on the area outside the city, the county wants to be part of the discussion of those impacts."

Gallagher said he doesn't believe the rules are meant to stand in the airport's way.

There doesn't seem to be any intent to limit development or business growth and they aren't hurting any of our efforts right now. They are listening to us and expressed a willingness to work with us."

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Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234

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