The Longmont City Council will hear an appeal Tuesday of the Planning and Zoning Commission's decision to approve a storage facility across Airport Road from the Vance Brand Municipal Airport.
Loveland-based Firehouse Self Storage plans to build a 235,000 square-foot business on 16 acres southeast of Airport Road and Rogers Road. The Burton family, who owns the business, is passionate about helping first responders and a portion of proceeds from their Loveland site goes to the Larimer County Search and Rescue team, according to the business website.
The proposed Longmont storage buildings will be one-story unoccupied structures, but developers plan to put a two-story office building with a caretaker unit on the second floor.
There is a 300-foot wide navigation easement that extends southeast from the airport runway and the planned storage facility is located outside of that easement. Additionally, the Federal Aviation Administration has a restriction on "airspace penetration" that regulates how high buildings close to runways can extend into the air.
For the proposed location of the two-story office building, the FAA regulation prohibits buildings from extending higher than 31 feet. The proposed office/caretaker structure, however is about 34 feet high.
The FAA weighed in about the project, saying the height of the building would have "no substantial adverse effect on the safe and efficient utilization of navigable airspace by aircraft."
Some see hazard to navigation
Members of the Airport Advisory Board, pilots and Airport Manager David Slayter disagree.
Slayter sent a letter to the FAA in mid-November asking them to reconsider their decision. Slayter wrote that there has been an increasing amount of jet traffic and air traffic using instruments rather than sight to take off from Vance Brand.
"In a visual (or non-instrument departure), the pilot can see obstructions visually and the safety concern is not as great as for instrument departures," Slayter said in an email.
Slayter wrote in his letter that the FAA may be underestimating the amount of instrument departures and landings because they are sometimes canceled before landing.
"We feel that based on what we have been experiencing with increased traffic of a certain operational type and the instrument departures (as well as arrivals), that such a penetration does classify as a hazard to air navigation," Slayter wrote to the FAA.
Additionally, Airport Advisory Board member Dale VanZant appealed the Planning and Zoning Commission's 4-3 approval of the project to the City Council.
VanZant mentioned his status as an Airport Advisory Board member in his appeal letter but also said he was appealing as a private Longmont citizen.
VanZant wrote in his appeal that there will be 70,000 times a plane will fly directly over the proposed storage business in a year — 40,000 times to takeoff and 30,000 times to land.
"As shown on the proposal's plat plan the storage units will be about 1,500 feet from the southeast end of the runway," VanZant wrote.
"At approach speeds for a typical flight plan this distance is traversed in less than 15 seconds. Any problem encountered on landing will almost certainly be exacerbated by having buildings, trees and people in the potential off-airport landing that will follow."
Too late to change plan?
Barbara Brunk, with Resources Conservation Partners and who presents on behalf of development clients at City Council and Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, denied being a spokesperson for the Burtons and refused to comment about the project to the Times-Call.
At the Nov. 16 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, however, Commissioner Michael Polan asked whether developers could consider moving the two-story building
Brunk replied that if there wasn't three feet of fill on the site because of drainage, there wouldn't be the building height problem.
Further, the two-story building is at that location because it's near the entrance to the site, which is required to be off of Rogers Road and not Airport Road, Planner Ava Pecherzewski added.
Brunk answered Polan by saying it's late in the process to change the site plan.
"Could we redesign the whole site to make it work? Absolutely, but somebody asked us to go to the FAA and ask if it was OK and they said it was. So we're pretty far down the road on a site design to start again," Brunk told the commission on Nov. 16.
Airport users and pilots say the issue is important enough to reconsider.
Lisa Doughty wrote a letter to the city saying she isn't a pilot but her husband is and the proposed building is dangerous.
"The proposed location of this facility in the 'bail out' zone of Vance Brand Airport poses an unnecessary safety risk to pilots, passengers and people on the ground," Doughty wrote in her letter. "I've very afraid that this development will kill my husband or someone like him — a guy who loves to fly so much that he spent years of nights and weekends building a plane so he could afford to fly."
Doughty said she initially thought a storage facility was a good use of the land before her husband and other pilots explained the risk.
"At first I thought this was a great thing to put there because there aren't going to be people who complain about the noise but my husband used a great analogy. He said it's like putting a building right at the edge of a highway," Doughty said.
Howard Morgan, president of the airport's Hangar Owners Association, wrote in a letter to the editor and told the Planning and Zoning Commission in person that the approval is foolhardy.
"To build something like this right off the end of a runway is stupid," Morgan wrote in his letter. "A building at this location would leave pilots having a problem making it to the runway zero options. If an airplane has a problem, not only would the crew and passengers be in jeopardy, but anyone in the facility would also be in jeopardy."
If you go
What: Longmont City Council meeting
When: 7 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Council Chambers, 350 Kimbark St.
More info: Read full agenda and more at Bit.ly/LM-City-Council