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Airpark preparing FAA grant proposals

Owners cite rising property values, express concern over long-term viability given development pressure


Newberg’s 69-year-old Sportsman Airpark is preparing a proposal that would transfer the property’s development rights into the city’s hands and would ensure the property is used as an airport in perpetuity.

The core of the proposal is a grant from the Federal Aviation Administration that would buy out the development rights to the airport, paying the owners the difference between the property’s value as an airport and as a potential commercial or residential development. The airport would remain in private ownership with the city acting as a sponsor and retaining the development rights. Similar to a conservation easement, a deed restriction would be added to the property stating it could only be used as an airport. This grant is part of an FAA program, officially called the Airport Development Rights Pilot Program, which began in 2004.Photo Credit: GARY ALLEN - Development pressure - With the growing amount of residential development and the rising property   values around Sportsman Airpark, owner Jerry Dale is preparing a resolution that would transfer development rights for the airport property to the city of Newberg and would ensure the property will always be used as an     airport. This would make the airport eligible for an FAA grant program to help it remain operational.

“It’s a program designed for airports like us, where things are growing up around it and putting economic pressure on the airport,” Sportsman Airpark owner Jerry Dale said. “The taxes and expenses just keep going up and you can’t generate enough revenue off the airport to support those kinds of values.”

Development has moved closer to the airport over the years, with residential construction picking up in 2009. With residences growing nearer, concerns have grown not just over rising property values but over the airport’s compatibility with the surrounding area.

“Most of the time airports are not seen as good neighbors,” Dale said. “(They’re seen as) noisy with fancy airplanes that are just toys. But it’s really not the truth: an airport is an economic engine. Even this little airport generates a lot of economic activity.”

Dale’s concerns about encroachment threatening the airport are part of a well-documented trend at other airports around the country. Bellevue Airport in Washington, for example, was a small airport that closed following its sale to a property development company in 1979, reported the website Abandoned & Little Known Airfields.

The issue has become common enough that the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association released a “Guide to Airport Noise and Compatible Land Use.”

“Residential encroachment on airports, neighbors complaining about noise, pollution and other hazards,” the document states. “Poor planning leaves airports surrounded by houses, churches and schools.”

Sportsman Airpark and the city of Newberg took steps to plan ahead for zoning around the airport years ago, adopting the Sportsman Airpark Land Use Master Plan in 2006. While the airport is not entirely within the city limits it is inside the urban growth boundary and the plan gives zoning guidelines for the property surrounding the airport.

Even in the master plan, however, concerns about the long-term stability of the airport were raised, and the FAA development rights program was referenced as a potential way to ensure stability.

The FAA program has been utilized at one threatened airport in its 10-year history. In 2008, the city of Santa Paula, Calif., received a grant of $5.74 million from the FAA to buy the development rights for the Santa Paula Airport. That amount was the difference in the airport’s property value as an airport versus what it could be with another commercial use, the Santa Paula Times reported.

There is one caveat to the program: when the city agrees to purchase the development rights using the FAA grant, it also agrees to continue operating the airport should the owners abandon it.

“The risk to the city would be having to run an airport and frankly we’re not in that business or at least not currently,” City Attorney Truman Stone said.

But Dale says that situation is very unlikely, explaining that even if somehow his family abandoned the airport it would still be valuable in its capacity as an airport, and would be very saleable.

“It will still have a substantial value and will generate income,” he said. “It is very readily self-sustainable.”

The city of Santa Paula, as the Santa Paula Airport’s sponsor, agreed to the stipulation that it would maintain operation of the airport should the owner no longer be able to do so. The airport remains privately-owned to this day.

Aside from allowing the airport to remain operational amidst the rising property values and costs, the FAA grant would also let Dale work on some improvements to the airport including widening and extending the runway and installing a new lighting system. These would help the airport remain a competitive option for customers.

Sportsman Airpark’s preparation to apply for the FAA program comes at a time when the Newberg-Dundee bypass is under construction just south of the property, and when it is complete the airport will be adjacent to the intersection of the bypass and Highway 219.

“Suddenly, this becomes a prime place,” said Tom Tesmer, a local businessman who is helping Dale with the process.

In addition to the airport’s economic impact, Tesmer cited its central location in the event of a natural disaster as well as its convenient location for Life Flight operations as some of its assets.

“I’m not sure how many people in town realize that the airport could be in danger of going away,” he said.

Dale said the process is still in the early stages and that the next step will be drafting a resolution to present to City Council.

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