New airport zoning regulations were approved Tuesday that Harford County Council members said could make the county more economically competitive.
The legislation, which was aimed at the Harford County Airport in Churchville, revises requirements regarding airport uses to make them conform to state regulations and would also allow more airport uses on land zoned for agriculture, by taking out older regulations about flight paths and property setbacks.
"As the [economic] environment improves under the BRAC situation, we will have lots of people who would like to be able to fly into Harford County without having to fly into Martin Airport," Councilman Dick Slutzky said, referring to the large general aviation airport in eastern Baltimore County.
Councilman Jim McMahan said some might have said the Phillips Army Air Field at Aberdeen Proving Ground could have been used for more public purposes – something many county officials had once hoped for – but that did not pan out.
"That, unfortunately, fell through and the Army decided it would not be a good idea, obviously, after 9/11, to open up the post for that purpose," McMahan said.
"This makes absolute, obvious [sense as the] next step in the process, and this is not a new step," McMahan continued. "I am sure there's some old-timers around Churchville who remember Charlie Spalding, who had the idea for a regional airport and had many of the farms under contract but it never came to fruition."
"Now, many years later, hopefully it will, because it will be much needed," he said.
Longer, wider runway
Shawn Pyle, president of the Harford County Airport Owners Group, the airport's corporate owner, said last week the property in Churchville is zoned agricultural and commercial.
He has been working on plans to convert the three runways into one longer runway, replace old hangars and, perhaps, modernize the management building, which he said floods every time it rains.
Pyle said he asked the county's planning and zoning department to "tweak some of the language to let us complete our facility on the current ag ground."
He said in an earlier interview that the three runways, which date to the late 1950s, would be turned into one paved runway that meets Maryland Aviation Administration standards of being at least 3,200 feet long (it is now 2,200 feet) and 75 feet wide instead of 36.
There was no opposition expressed to any of the changes during a public hearing the council held on the legislation on Feb. 17. During the hearing, county Planning and Zoning Director Pete Gutwald said bill would expedite improvements to private airports without making the owners go through a lengthy zoning appeals process – one that could potentially crystallize public opposition.
"A lot of that is so we can deal with the nonconforming uses," Gutwald explained. "You realize there are only three airports [in the county]. Two have properties that are ag zoned."
With this bill, the county "wouldn't have to deal with a zoning change," Gutwald said. "We thought it was best to deal with it through a textual amendment."
The bill takes out requirements that the takeoff and landing path of aircraft be at least 250 feet above surrounding property, as well as that structures for servicing aircraft must be at least 200 feet from a property line.
The bill also changes some regulations regarding fencing at the airport to make it conform with state regulations.
The bill does not, however, allow more of the airport's commercial operation to take up more than 50 percent of land in a given agricultural district.
'A great asset'
Councilman Chad Shrodes said he believes the county should have modern airport facilities, for "where we are now in the modern age."
"I think this will be a great asset," he said.
Councilman Joe Woods, who is with the Fallston Volunteer Fire Company, also said there is a "potential safety opportunity" as the airport will be able to better provide training and Medevac opportunities.
"I look forward to being able to help out with that," he said.
Council President Billy Boniface added: "This bill is about putting all the airports on a level playing field."