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Harford airport expansion plans reviewed by county

County agenies are reviewing plans to expand the Harford County Airport near Churchville, as residents appeal a recent zoning approval for the project to the Circuit Court.
County agenies are reviewing plans to expand the Harford County Airport near Churchville, as residents appeal a recent zoning approval for the project to the Circuit Court. (Aegis file photo Matt Button, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Although a zoning approval for the project has been appealed to Circuit Court, the owners of the Harford County Airport are proceeding with plans to expand the more than 70-year-old Churchville facility and combine three existing runways into one 3,200-foot-long and 75-foot-wide runway.

A preliminary plan and a site plan for the project were presented to the Harford County Development Advisory Committee Wednesday morning.

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Moe Davenport, chairman of the committee, reminded Doug Kopeck, a vice president with CNA Inc., a Forest Hill engineering firm, of the appeal of the special exception to expand the airport, which was granted by a county zoning hearing examiner in April and upheld by the Harford County Council sitting as the Board of Appeals in September.

"You move forward at your own risk, obviously," Davenport told Kopeck.

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Davenport explained after the meeting that a project that has been approved by county officials can proceed through the planning and permitting stages, despite a court challenge being filed.

"It's your risk that [the court] may overturn the decision," Davenport continued.

Harford County People's Counsel Brian Young and county resident John Mallamo filed separate appeals in Circuit Court in mid-October. Both men pleaded their cases against the airport expansion during the Board of Appeals hearing.

They spoke on behalf of neighbors of the airport, which is in the 3500 block of Aldino Road, who are concerned about increased noise, stormwater runoff, aircraft security and the potential for jets, attracted by a longer runway.

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Council President Billy Boniface, who is stepping down at the end of his term after eight years on the council, recused himself from the Board of Appeals proceedings because his horse farm might be affected by the airport expansion.

The facility is operated by the Harford County Airport Owners Group Inc., which has requested grant funding from the Maryland Aviation Administration to support the project.

The special exception is needed to disturb the nearby 75-foot Natural Resources District buffer for the runway expansion.

Members of DAC told Kopeck about the variety of improvements that must be made to the plans and permits required before the plans are approved.

Shane Grimm of the Harford County Department of Planning and Zoning said the project is subject to the conditions of the Board of Appeals case.

He said the site plan must be revised to include the removal of a proposed airport access through Fairchild Court, a private residential drive.

"The Board of Appeals decision specifically stated that no access to Fairchild Court shall be permitted, so we need that removed from the plan prior to site plan approvals," Grimm said.

Robin Wales of the Department of Emergency Services said emergency officials will test the emergency radio coverage in the new facility.

"Radio communication inside the building is essential to the safety of those occupying the structure, as well as fire, law enforcement and emergency medical providers replying to a call for help," she said.

Julie Mackert of the Harford County Health Department said neighboring wells and on-site disposal systems must be identified.

Mallamo attended the committee meeting and questioned Davenport during the public comment portion about why the committee did not review airport operations regarding takeoff and landings of aircraft.

"There's an altitude involved here, and time; who is going to represent that phenomenon?" he asked.

Mallamo lives in the Bel Air area, so he does not live close to the airport, but he has joined the fight against the expansion.

Davenport said the project is still going through the county review process, which involves all land-use matters.

He stressed that the aircraft operations would be handled by the Maryland Aviation and Federal Aviation administrations.

"We're making sure that they comply with the conditions of the Board of Appeals case," Davenport said.

Farmer Robert Tibbs, who is an airport neighbor, expressed concerns about how increased air traffic would affect livestock – he noted residents have lived with the airport since the 1940s.

"We're going to have bigger planes; they're going to require a different air pattern around the airport, which is going to affect adjoining properties," Tibbs said.

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