June 17, 2008

Flight Plan Ordinance Gets Vote: Method Limits Building Height, Reduces Hazards

By Mike Cherney, The Sun News, Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Jun. 17--County officials are trying to ensure flight paths for planes taking off and landing at the county's four public airports are not blocked by new buildings by clearly marking the flight approaches on the county maps that are used to plan for development.

Doing so would make it easier for county planners to know whether a new building could potentially interfere with an airport's flight path, said principal county planner Roy Taylor.

Depending on how far away a development is from the airport, the new ordinance suggests limiting buildings to one, two or three floors.

Horry County Council will take a final vote on the idea at its meeting Tuesday.

As the county tries to upgrade the passenger terminal at Myrtle Beach International Airport, preserving flight paths could prevent the loss of Federal Aviation Administration funding, which can stop giving aid if flight paths become too dangerous.

"We want to preserve and protect the public investment in these airport facilities, which are necessary for a tourism-driven economy to survive," Taylor said.

Developers of buildings up to 20,000 feet away from an airport are generally required to notify the FAA of the construction, depending on the height of the building and how far away it is from the airport, according to FAA regulations. The FAA then reviews the project to determine whether it could pose a risk to the airport's flight path.

Rusty Chapman, manager of the airports division for the FAA Southern Region, said it is rare for a development to be considered a hazard.

But if it is, he said, the FAA works with local authorities to ensure the project is modified so it does not pose a safety risk.

The FAA has no enforcement power, he said, so local governments and airport operators are responsible for making sure that nearby development does not threaten the flight path.

The county already has similar guidelines for protecting the airspace around the airports, but Taylor said it is written in an obscure ordinance that was not widely used by the county's planning department.

By marking the approach zones on the county's zoning maps, which the county uses to plan for development, Taylor said county planners and builders will be able to avoid any conflict between development and the approaches early in the approval process.

Taylor said Conway, Myrtle Beach and North Myrtle Beach have also expressed interest in mimicking the county's protection guidelines to avoid any confusion over development near the county's airports.

In 2006, there was a back-and-forth between Myrtle Beach and the county about whether a new high-rise building could interfere with the ability of a radar being planned by the FAA for the Myrtle Beach airport to track planes as they take off and land.

The issue was resolved when it became clear the building would only be a problem for the radar if the county built a third runway at the airport, which it has since said it does not intend to build.

Bob Kemp, the county's airport director, said preserving the flight paths has not stopped development around the airport, although some developers have had to make modifications to their projects.

"As we saw in the city of Myrtle Beach, not all the developers are always aware of the extent of that impact. Once developers are aware of the impact ... we've been able to work through any issues that may exist," Kemp said.


If you go What -- Horry County Council meeting

When -- 6 p.m. Tuesday

Where -- Council chambers, 1301 Second Ave., Conway

Contact MIKE CHERNEY at 444-1765.


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