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Lancaster public hearings of July 1, 2013 - Part IV: Special Use Permit
By Lee Chowaniec
Jul 5, 2013, 02:06
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The second public hearing of July 1, 2013 is on a request by Buffalo-Lancaster Airport (BLA) for a Special Use Permit according to requirements set in Article VI for Light Industrial District zoning; 50-24(b)f (permitted uses).

Buffalo- Lancaster Airport attorney addresses board first

As BLA attorney Adam Walters declared his earlier remarks at the first public hearing on the code text language change were equally important in bearing out his Special Use Permit public hearing comments they will be published here as well.

Adam Walters commented at the first public hearing on favoring local law amendment to change text code from, “Any commercial recreation activity [Special Use Permit Required] to Any commercial recreation activity including, but not limited to, private commercial airports [Special Use Permit required].”

Walters’ position was that the code language change would aid the airport in getting the $10,000 owed it from a NYS grant not yet paid and that there were no plans to expand the airport.

Walters declared at the code text change public hearing, “To be clear, there is no proposed expansion to the Buffalo-Lancaster Airport. So for all those who says there will be, that is not true. In the 90’s we did master planning and there was a lot of dialogue with the town. The upshot is that we don’t need a text amendment. How do we know that, do we need to have a specific resolution, we do not. What do we know? We know for twelve years this (town) board issued numerous approvals to the airport; at every step of the process. The airport has never built a hangar without coming in for a permit. We did not build the runway without coming in for a permit. The airport has not added any buildings without coming in for permits, approvals, site plan review, and public hearings.”

“Two master plans were approved by this board; submitted, reviewed and approved. Why is that necessary, because the federal government will not give FAA dollars without involvement by the local board; its elected officials. That is why this resolution is on tonight. In 2010, the Lemasters did bring an action before the Zoning Board of Appeals. Nothing has been cleared up for three years. The airport is entitled to some reimbursement. The airport cannot get those reimbursements. The money is already spent on improvements from federal and state grants until this board says we approve this (code text change). The board has been hesitant to do so. The whole point of this text amendment is to clarify the zoning status for the airport once and for all. It is not to authorize expansion. This is not about expansion. The airport does not get to expand as result of this text change. It simply clarifies the zoning status. So we strongly support the text change based on this.”

Special Use Permit comments

BLA attorney Adam Walters was the first to address the board.

“We are here to talk about the Special Use Permit application. It does go hand-in-hand with the text message change. The amended (text) message clarifies that the airport is a permitted use. It goes back to the prior town board and makes it clear that the airport is a permitted use and that the airport is allowed to do what it does. We have heard a lot of speculation on what it would allow the airport to do. Anything the airport would want to do; it would have to come to the (town) board for approval.”

“I will make things brief because other things have already been covered (in the first public hearing). The town did give us a lot of approvals over the years. The town approved the 2006 airport master plan. They did a negative declaration on the SEQR. There a couple of things in the master plan that have not been done. This special use permit will not allow those things to happen. It is not authorized; the runway extension and the construction of a parallel taxiway are not authorized uses. Issuing this special use permit will not alter things at the airport. The special reason for the (code text) clarification is strictly for reimbursement.”

“The airport has a long and valued history. It is not a lot of money we are asking for, but it is money. We would not object if there were special conditions in the Special Use Permit that says we have to come back for further approvals/permits.”

SACL spokesperson Dave Hangaue

I am strongly against this as the airport is not a conforming use and that makes it ineligible for a special use permit. If the airport were a conforming use it has to meet certain criteria of the town code Section 50-46 to be granted a Special Use Permit:

“No special permit or renewal thereof or modification of the provisions of this ordinance shall be authorized by the Board unless, in addition to other findings specified in this ordinance, it finds that such special permit or modification meets the following five criteria:

(1) Will be in harmony with the general purposes and intent of this ordinance; The 1989 Zoning Ordinance states that this district is for light manufacturing activities. An airport does not manufacture anything and therefore does not meet this criteria.

(2) Will not tend to depreciate the value of adjacent property: A lot of people don’t like loud and frequent aircraft noise right over their homes and so the value of the surrounding area resident’s properties will be reduced if the airport expands – through the text change.

(3) Will not create a hazard to health, safety or the general welfare; Having more, and larger, aircraft take off, land, and fly at low altitude over the residents involuntarily increase their risk of a crash into their property.

(4) Will not alter the essential character of the neighborhood nor be detrimental to the residents thereof; Taking an otherwise rather quiet suburban neighborhood and having a lot of aircraft taking off, landing, and flying at low altitude over it certainly changes the character for the neighborhood and is detrimental to the residents thereof.

(5) Will not otherwise be detrimental to the public convenience and welfare. ” When frequent flights get so annoying that you have to leave your home to get some peace then one can certainly say that is detrimental to the public convenience and welfare!

So the airport does not meet the above criteria and so would not be eligible for a special use permit, even if they were a conforming use, which they are not.

The bottom line in all of this is that the airport should have faded out of existence when the 1989 facility came to the end of its useful life because it was a nonconforming use. They were resurrected by FAA and NYS taxpayer money while they were in violation of the Town’s zoning laws, and they did not provide certain critical information (e.g. 2006 flight pattern change and the effect on nearby residential areas, zoning laws violations, etc) to the Town when asking for approvals so that a more correct decision could be made.

Now it is time for the Town to put a permanent, and iron clad, lid on any airport expansions and let it live out its nonconforming lifespan while taking vigorous measures to minimizing the deleterious effect it is already having at its current size on the residents.

Resident Lee Chowaniec

I am opposed to the BLA Special Use Permit request. I heard a lot of things said by the airport people supporting the code text change during the first public hearing saying only that they were for the airport. This is not about stopping the airport operation that is taking place. It is about code text change that could open the door for further airport expansion. Mr. Walters said this is not about expansion – that there would be no expansion. He said they would support putting in conditions. Conditions where, in the language of the code text change, that would now make the airport a conforming use? Since 1989, the town code has recognized this airport as a non-conforming.

Put in conditions that the airport could not expand into perpetuity and see how that lets with the airport. That would satisfy the Safe Aviation Coalition of Lancaster and their supporters that are here today.

The pilots speaking here tonight have been under the impression that this is about shutting the airport operation down; that SACL wants to see that happen. They and their supporters appreciate everything you do, all that you spoke on this evening. No one from SACL has declared that the airport can’t continue operating the way it now does. The issue here is on airport expansion.

If the airport does expand, it will have an adverse impact on other current residential and developing communities and future town boards will have far more people coming in with complaints and asking why the town allowed this to happen when it was not in the best interests of the community.

The point is SACL, their supporters and the resident here tonight are not saying they want to see the airport shut down and/or diminished in operation in any way, but to not experience quality of life impacts that would increase from an airport expansion that would bring in small jets, aircraft with 78 foot wingspans and helicopters. The town board and pilots should not let Mr. Walters mislead them into thinking that this has nothing to do with expansion.

Lastly, it would be shameful of this board to not separate the ‘no brainer’ Colecraft Building proposal from the controversial airport code text change when determination time came. The Colecraft Building text change could be approved as early as the next town board meeting. The town board should take the proverbial ‘hard look’ before deciding on the airport code text change.

Follow-up Comments

Going back to December of 2012, the airport came to a town board work session and requested a resolution be put on the agenda in such language that would allow them to recoup $6,000 in state grant money owed them. They again declared the language change was not for expansion purpose but to claim money owed them. Supervisor Fudoli asked the airport representatives if they would be willing to conserve to the town a number of acres east of the runway that would ensure expansion would never take place. The airport walked away and is using another backdoor approach to not only get the money owed it but to becoming a conforming (permitted) use. Mr. Walters says this is not about expanding, but it is definitely about airport expansion.

By the airport becoming a conforming use, why would it need a required special use permit? If the code text change is approved, making the airport a conforming use, by what authority could the town stop them from issuing permits for further airport expansion?

The airport’s own Special Use Permit application states they want to put in a parallel taxiway and extend the runway to 5,200 feet in length. Do you seriously believe the airport will pay for this improvement with their own funds? As a permitted use they will be eligible for more federal and state grant money (taxpayer money) to pay for further expansion costs.

SACL has already compromised by not pursuing legal action to mediate the illegal expansion that has already taken place. SACL simply does not want to see further airport expansion taking place and presented numerous facts to back up their pursuit.

The pilots spoke at the public hearings in a manner that said they were for the airport. They spoke as one concerned that the hearings were about shutting the airport down. That is not true.

The town has been put in a difficult position; obligated to seriously consider what is being asked here, what has been presented by the public, and who will be best served with their determination. In listening to the detailed facts presented by SACL on the consequences of airport expansion to the public, believing the great majority of the pilots left the hearings calmed and happy to hear the airport will be conducting operations as usual, it is my opinion the community would be best served if the town provided language that would prevent airport expansion from taking place.

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