Sunday, May 21, 2017

Restaurants and a warehouse proposed for Braden Airpark (N43), Forks Township, Northampton County, Pennsylvania



The proposed development of three restaurants and a warehouse at Braden Airpark could give the small-plane airfield a long, prosperous future, but is it right for Forks Township's future?

That's a decision township officials face after J.G. Petrucci Co. laid out development plans that could bring enough money to rebuild the outdated airport that's been home to small-plane pilots since the Great Depression. But it would also bring cars and potentially tractor-trailers into a part of the township already struggling with traffic, said Eric Chuss, a township supervisor and small plane pilot.

"I can't speak for the entire board, but a plan that includes a large warehouse at Braden isn't something we'd generally be interested in moving forward with," Chuss said. "I think there are some things that would be appropriate there, but we have some concerns about this."

For now, the plan is little more than a trial balloon floated by New Jersey-based Petrucci, which was the only developer to respond to a request by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority for proposals to redevelop Braden. Three years ago the authority considered closing the airport and selling it for development, causing a backlash from pilots and officials from Forks Township and Northampton County. With help from a $250,000 county grant, the authority has since decided to keep it open and perform roughly $500,000 of overdue improvements. 

But a $2.7 million plan to rebuild the 1,956 foot long runway, construct a new terminal and add several hangars to attract more pilots to base their planes there can't happen unless the authority can raise money by leasing unused parts of the airport to business tenants.

That's where the Petrucci plan comes in. It would cover roughly half of the 72-acre airport, building a cafe at the corner of Sullivan Trail and Uhler Road, along with two other restaurants just north of the Braden runway. South of the runway, on 31 acres, would be a 350,000 square-foot warehouse that would allow truck access from Bushkill Drive.

But to do all that, Forks Township would have to change the zoning on the property from recreation, education and and municipal to employment center district, which allows light industrial manufacturing and retail.

It would also need the approval of the airport authority. It's unclear who the tenants would be, or even how much traffic it would create.

"These are the uses we believe would generate interest," said Martin Till, Petrucci's regional president. "This is all very preliminary. Until we know what the township will approve, there's no point developing a business model."

After a meeting with Petrucci officials two weeks ago, township officials drafted a list of concerns that would likely need to be addressed before the land could be considered for rezoning, Chuss said.

"I think we'd like assurances that the airfield would remain open and I think we'd like to see businesses that relate to the airport, such as a restaurant connected to the terminal, an aircraft maintenance business and maybe a flight school," Chuss said. "I know a lot of people will have concerns about the traffic. Whatever goes there, we'd have to have a discussion about how the traffic would impact the area."

For some pilots, seeing their beloved airfield chopped in half would be a bitter pill. Opened in 1938 as Easton Airport by packaged-meat seller Edwin Braden, the airport was a place where thousands of pilots learned to fly. In 1999 — by then it was renamed Braden Airpark — the authority took over operations. But when it considered selling Braden in 2014, the uncertainty caused the flight school to leave, and more than half of its 70 pilots took their planes to other airports.

Redevelopment is seen as key to bringing back that heyday. The man who shares a name with the airport endorses development there, even if it means shrinking the airpark. Paul Braden, a retired Lutheran minister from Easton, remembers how pilots used to flock to his family's airport and how many friends taught their children to fly there. Still, the idea of people ordering hamburgers at a drive-through or truckers loading goods on land where people use to park their planes doesn't bother him.

"There was a time decades ago when people would land their Piper Cubs on that grassy area where they would build the warehouse, but today you can only use the runway. That part of the airport hasn't really been in use for years," said Braden, who still bases the Piper Cherokee he leases with four other pilots at the airfield. "It's up to the township to decide whether they want a warehouse, but for me, I see nothing there that gets in the way of flight activities."

For Braden, the debate is a good thing because it means the airpark has a future.

"Not long ago, it seemed like it didn't have a future," he said. "But now there's a lot of reason to be hopeful. All I can do is root for it to happen."

Original article can be found here:  http://www.mcall.com

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