September 9, 2008

Airport Rift Shifts Toward New Front

By Matt Garfield / [email protected]

The dispute over new zoning rules at Rock Hill/York County Airport moved closer to a conclusion Monday night, when Rock Hill leaders voted in favor of them. But another clash is only just beginning.

"The future for us is going to be the expansion," said homeowner and lead opponent Scott Ball. "We are not done with this fight."

The new rules aim to protect land around the airport, where local officials are pursuing a 1,000-foot runway extension in hopes of luring more corporate jet traffic. Neighbors view the rules as a major step toward a bigger airport - and the disruptions that would come with it.

Federal dollars are more readily available to airports where land restrictions have been imposed.

Opponents stayed mostly peaceful during a City Council meeting and public hearing, though repeated clapping prompted Mayor Doug Echols to say, "The council is not going to make a decision on an applause meter. I appreciate your enthusiasm, but that's not gaining support, in my view."

Supporters argued the rules are needed regardless of whether the runway is lengthened. Any runway lengthening would require additional approvals, and officials have said money likely won't be available for 10 years. The prevailing view might have been summed up best by Councilwoman Kathy Pender.

"It's obvious it would've been helpful if this had been done 15 or 20 years ago," she said. "And it's pretty obvious that if we don't do it now, people will look back at us in 15 or 20 years and say, 'Why didn't you create a land-use plan?'"

The vote Monday night culminated a dispute that has stretched nearly nine months, generating unfounded rumors of old Russian fighter jets landing in Rock Hill, and DHL, a national shipping company, building a terminal off the runway.

"Going forward, let's keep the dialogue going, but let's stick to the facts," Councilman Kevin Sutton told neighbors.

"I'm sympathetic to your cause but it sort of sets me back when I hear things that are so off the wall."

Earlier this summer, officials agreed to drop a controversial noise disclosure form that had sparked anger from homeowners who feared it would scare off potential buyers.

An approval is still needed from the York County Council, which has signaled its intention to move forward.

Matt Garfield 329-4063

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