At their July 22, 2008 meeting, the Albemarle County Planning Commission approved an 800’ extension of Charlottesville-Albemarle Airport runway 21, despite some concerns over the environmental impact. The 3-1 vote in favor of the runway project allows the airport to make improvements they view as essential for their economic success.
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After the staff report, Commissioner Eric Strucko (Samuel Miller) called attention to a decision made by Mark Graham, the County’s Director of Community Development, to classify the runway project as a driveway. Driveways are exempted from certain sections of the water protection ordinance
passed by the Board of Supervisors in February
, and are allowed to be constructed within a stream buffer. According to Strucko, Graham stated in an email that he made this decision because a runway is an access way for a vehicle to reach the building, as is a driveway; Strucko maintained that the two were substantially different, even if only the dimensions are considered.
Barbara Hutchinson, Executive Director of the Airport, explained that the runway extension was a key part of their master plan from 2003. According to Hutchinson, atmospheric factors in the area frequently result in a condition known as high density altitude, which hamper takeoffs. During these periods, the larger aircraft, such as military, UVA athletic, and tourist charter planes, are unable to take off carrying a full load of passengers, or in some cases full fuel tanks, because the current runway is not long enough. Hutchinson pointed to the airline industry’s current examinations of the profitability of airports, and said that “when they automatically have to kick 4-8 people off the flight…that puts us on the map of the airline looking to potentially discontinue service.”
During the public comment period Allan Kindrick, the owner of land adjacent to the proposed runway extension, raised several concerns about the project. The runway would come closer to Chris Greene Lake, which Kindrick said has already been harmed by the airport activities. “I really believe that it’s unsafe for a recreational facility, and it’s certainly not safe for drinking water, which is its secondary purpose.” Kindrick also expressed confusion about the airport’s decision to locate the runway on this end of their property, “since the airport owns enough land on the other end…I do not understand the planning to go to all the effort to build this thing and further damage Chris Greene Lake.” Commissioner Calvin Morris (Rivanna) later thanked Kindrick for being a “good shepherd” of his land for 50 years, and recognized the Kindrick family’s 200 year history on the property.
Marcia Joseph (At-Large) asked staff about the airport’s environmental mitigation plans. Amy Pflaum, Senior Engineer with the County explained that “with the administrative decision… to allow this development as a driveway, no mitigation for stream or critical slope is required.” Joseph also expressed concerns about chemical runoff into the streams. Those were addressed by Hutchinson, who assured Joseph that due to special equipment and use of a vacuum truck, there was no significant risk of de-icing chemicals flowing into the stream.
Strucko repeated his opposition to the driveway designation.
“I for one disagree with staff’s opinion that this should be treated as a driveway…I don’t think I could approve this knowing that there’s no formal mitigation plan in place… this is in a critical slope area, in a stream buffer, in an area, as the public speaker mentioned, next to Chris Greene Lake, which is also part of a long term water supply plan if I’m not mistaken. I can’t understand why we wouldn’t want a mitigation plan for this project.”
Linda Porterfield (Scottsville) asked if there was any reason the Commission could not require a mitigation plan. Bill Fritz, the County’s Chief of Current Development, instructed the Commission that they “don’t have any authority to require anything above and beyond what the ordinance already requires… there’s no waiver mechanism, there’s no trigger.” However, he reiterated that there were some water quality controls present in the ordinances, and the airport is required to submit some mitigation plans to the state Department of Environmental Quality. Fritz also explained that if the runway had not been designated a driveway, it would have had to meet some other requirements in the ordinance, or else it would not have been allowed in the stream buffer.
The final vote was 3-1 to approve the major site plan amendment with Strucko voting against. The plan does not require the approval of the Board of Supervisors.