Friday, April 21, 2017

Confusion shrouds Knox County Regional Airport (KRKD), church proposals

Planning Board member Kenneth Wexler expresses his views on a runway expansion at Knox County Regional Airport during a meeting April 19 in Owls Head.

Owls Head — Two proposed projects that were presented to the Owls Head Planning Board April 19 were declared pre-applications for site plan reviews -- despite disputes as to what qualified either project for a site plan review.

Shane McDougall of Stantec Consulting Services presented a schematic of a proposed expansion of Knox County Regional Airport's main runway.

The project would add 200 feet of newly constructed pavement and incorporate a currently unused portion of the runway at the end closest to Route 73, plus extend a taxiway leading to the extension by 400 feet, resulting in a total increased pavement area of 20,000 square feet.

The expansion would allow planes to take on enough fuel to make the entire flight to distant locations, which the current 5,007-foot runway does not accommodate.

Airport Manager Jeff Northgraves said the runway extension will not change the fact that the airport is still not equipped to take heavier planes with longer wingspans, nor does he anticipate an increase in the number of aircraft using the airport.

"The improvements will shrink the noise footprint and add safety," Northgraves said.

No additional clearing needs to be done for the extended safety areas; however, fencing on either side of the runway that was installed in 2013 will have to be relocated, according to McDougall.

He said the project does not affect wetlands at all, which prompted Planning Board member Kenneth Wexler to say, "I think we are entitled to more than you are giving us, and I strongly take exception to Jeff saying 'this is just a courtesy.'"

"All the information is available," Northgraves said. "Mr. Wexler is on record as a citizen against this project. He is the only person in Owls Head who went to the commissioners and spoke to them against making the extension. So, in that vein, I do not think that he can make an objective opinion on our presentation, and I would ask that he recuse himself from the Planning Board process."

"Absolutely not; it's my right to go to the commissioners," Wexler said.

Shane McDougall, PE, of Stantec Consulting Services, shows the Owls Head Planning Board a proposed expansion to Knox County Regional Airport at its April 19 meeting. 

Northgraves said he expects there are court cases out there that state just that, to which Wexler said, "I'd love to take this to court to appeal this thing and tie it up for a couple years."

Northgraves noted that, of the written comments he received from the public in February, more than 100 supported putting this project in place, while there were only four against.

"It's a win-win for everybody," he said.

Wexler said the issue isn't how many people support the project, it is about whether it meets with the approval of the Planning Board.

"We need to make sure that it meets the town's requirements," Wexler added.

The project is anticipated to cost around $1.8 million, about 90 percent of which Northgraves said would be covered by FAA grant funds. The remaining 10 percent would be split evenly between the state and the county.

Code Enforcement Officer Scott Bickford referenced Section 3: Applicability of the town's Site Plan Review Ordinance, which addresses when site plan reviews are required. One of the factors indicated is "a lot's alteration of more than ten thousand (10,000) square feet" at commercial or multi-family residential properties.

Northgraves said as far as he knew, none of the projects the airport has completed has required a site plan review, but he said if that is what is required, that is what will happen.

Although the project will not change the footprint of the airport, Planing Board Chairman Robert Pratt referred to Section 2: Administration, which states "an applicant shall request a pre-application meeting with the Planning Board prior to formal submission of a site plan."

Pratt said the board would consider the airport to be a commercial establishment and therefore, "It does have to come before this board, as a matter of fact."

The board voted unanimously to accept the presentation as a pre-application meeting, and the project will be placed on the agenda for a site plan review at the board's meeting in May.

The confusion continued, with Owls Head Baptist Church proposing to expand its parking lot at 37 South Shore Drive.

Andrew Hedrich, a civil engineer with Gartley & Dorskey, said he was not under the impression that his project required a pre-application meeting, as recommended by Pratt.

The project being proposed deals with parking that has been in place for years, Hedrich said, and would allow for parking in the rear of the church, and discourage parking along the edge of the road.

"This is the same footprint we used before, we're simply improving the parking," makikng it safer, he explained.

The plan also calls for improvement of the current ADA ramp and placement of handicapped spaces in the parking lot.

Hedrich said he did the same thing the prior applicant did -- reviewed the Site Plan Ordinance -- and could not see why his project would require it.

"We are more than willing to do whatever to make it happen, but I didn't interpret that as needing site plan review," Hedrich said.

Bickford said that churches do fall under the commercial aspect, therefore the project does require a site plan review.

The board agreed to accept the presentation as the pre-application for a site plan review by a vote of 3-2-1, with Pratt abstaining.

Both applicants were asked to return to present their site plan applications at the board's May 17 meeting.

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