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Stafford planners expected to vote on Oakenwold

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A plan outlining proper use of land surrounding Stafford Regional Airport won’t be ready before the Stafford Planning Commission once again entertains a vote on a proposal for a major development nearby.

But information produced from the committee meetings discussing the airport land-use plan may come to play when commissioners consider approving the development that could bring up to 650 residential units and up to 250,000 square feet of commercial space on a 232-acre site southwest of the airport.

The airport’s opposition to the development called Oakenwold induced formation of the committee, which consists of Planning Commission members and Stafford Regional Airport officials. The committee hopes to present a land-use plan for the airport to the Planning Commission by early fall.

Even though the plan isn’t complete, the commission is expected to vote on Oakenwold on Wednesday after delaying voting several times. The applicant allowed the Planning Commission to extend the deadline for voting on Oakenwold to its meeting July 9.

Planning Commissioner and committee member Steven Apicella said he hasn’t made a decision on Oakenwold, but that discussions at committee meetings will inform his decision.

Planning Commissioner and committee member Robert Gibbons said that the committee discussion will not inform his vote.

Apicella said he has passed on information from the committee meetings to planning commissioners who aren’t on the committee.

Committee discussions have ranged from the airport’s recommendations for how the land around the airport should be used to what land uses other airports around the nation have allowed near their runways.

For airport officials, the proximity of potentially denser development to the airport could endanger the airport’s future due to noise and other complaints from residents. In their report, the airport officials recommended keeping the area around the airport industrial.

“This is all a balancing act because we get our funding from the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration]. If they see us stymied in growth, then they will probably not tend to fund as liberally as they have in the past,” said Hamilton Palmer of the Stafford Regional Airport Authority.

At Monday’s meeting, the committee looked at a land-use compatibility matrix that outlined what types of land uses were suitable within specific zones surrounding the airport. The two areas Oakenwold would fall under dictated that residential development was either not compatible or would need additional review.

Stafford senior planner Erica Ehly said that the matrix is based on matrixes used in states where regulations are stricter. She added that the matrix is a tool for the committee and not a proposal for what should be used for Stafford.

“It is conservative,” Ehly said.

Under the matrix, Oakenwold would fall within the horizontal zone of the airport, which is 10,000 feet from the center of the runway. The matrix says residential development proposed within the horizontal zone would need additional review. Low-intensity retail and open space were two land uses that were deemed compatible in the horizontal zone.

Oakenwold would also fall within the flight-pattern area of the airport, where, according to the matrix, residential development was incompatible.

The committee will continue to look into what land uses should be allowed within each zone, and what kinds of conditions such as noise levels should be attached to each zone. It also bounced around suggestions for the menu of items that would be considered when a project falls under additional review.

One of those suggested items was if the applicant has proposed noise-mitigation factors.

Applicants for the Oakenwold development recently added a requirement for noise reduction construction standards for all residences. The applicants also recently increased the buffer between Centreport Parkway and residences.

Airport officials, however, continued to stress that noise is subjective.

Edward Wallis, the airport director, told the committee that he already receives complaints from some residents from the aircraft that fly from the airport. At full-capacity, about 315 aircraft would be taking off and landing at the airport daily.

Wallis said that 315 amount is about ten times the level that the airport is operating now.

Commissioners on the committee asked to see a log of the complaints received by the airport at the next committee meeting.

Apicella noted that with the agriculturally-zoned land around the airport, there will likely be some by-right residential development at some point near the airport.

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