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Is Oakenwold right for airport land use?

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When it comes to future development around the Stafford Regional Airport, county and airport officials are still asking themselves one main question: How restrictive should we be?

That question first arose with a proposal for a development that could bring up to 650 residential units and up to 250,000 square feet of commercial space southwest of the airport. The development, called Oakenwold, is now on its way to the Stafford Board of Supervisors for rejection or approval. The Planning Commission has recommended that it be rejected.

Oakenwold brought to light a contradiction in the county’s interests.

On the one hand, a majority of commissioners felt that the airport and Oakenwold were incompatible. But the development would be located in an area that the county has targeted for growth.

Most of the land falling under the airport’s existing and future traffic patterns is zoned agricultural. But the county’s plan that maps out what land should be used for in the future allows for development in that area. Within the airport’s traffic pattern, about 302 acres is planned for suburban development and 1,527 acres is planned for an urban development area. Development consisting of more houses and a mix of residential and commercial space is the recommended use in an urban development area.

A committee of planning commissioners and airport officials formed several months ago to tackle this contradiction by creating an airport land-use plan. That plan would identify compatible land uses around the airport and act as a guiding document for developers looking to build around the airport.

At the committee’s Thursday meeting, Stafford County staff unveiled their draft recommendations for what types of land uses around the airport were compatible. Staff had carved out zones around the airport, and labeled different land uses within each zone as compatible, non-compatible or in need of additional review.

Most of the committee’s attention zeroed in on the zone falling within 10,000 feet of the runway and under the flight pattern of aircraft. Within that zone, staff had labeled single- and multifamily residential development as requiring additional review.

Staff then listed several items that planning commissioners would look at during the additional review such as whether the homes were equipped with any sound insulation.

But the committee didn’t feel like the menu of items was enough, and tasked staff with coming back with more suggestions for what an additional review could consist of.

“I feel like we have an 80 percent solution in front of us,” Planning Commissioner Steven Apicella said.

Stafford Senior Planner Erica Ehly said that the additional review items will depend on how restrictive the county wants to be.

“Well, how much do we want to discourage residential development?” Ehly asked the committee. “We didn’t really know how far we are going to go.”

Ehly said that jurisdictions across the country have gone as far as restricting more tightly packed development in certain zones while others have required a certain percentage of open space along with development. Still other localities have set a minimum lot size in certain areas around their airports.

Some airport officials pushed for a harder-line approach, saying that residential development within the airport’s flight pattern should be labeled non-compatible.

“Essentially, this [the draft recommendations] is no different from where we are today. My fear is that we have not put really any teeth to restricting residential use in these areas,” Stafford Airport Authority member Lindy Kirkland said.

If, Kirkland said, the applicant for a development had some catch-all solution that would make it compatible, then they could go before the Planning Commission and plead their case. Commissioner Darrell English seemed to agree with Kirkland.

Apicella leaned toward putting more criteria into the additional review rather than labeling all residential development under the flight pattern as non-compatible.

In addition to hearing suggestions for additional criteria, the committee will discuss data on airport noise complaints at their August 25th meeting.

Vanessa Remmers: 540/735-1975