Monday, July 24, 2017

Hangar users object to East Rockhill Township conditions on Pennridge Airport (KCKZ) plans for additional hangars

EAST ROCKHILL >> For the fifth month in a row, Pennridge Airport’s plans to build additional hangars were a big part of the East Rockhill Township Board of Supervisors July 18 meeting, but there still isn’t a clear flight path.

A conditional use hearing for the plans was held in March, April and May. In June, the board gave its decision, approving the conditional use request if 29 conditions were met. At the same June 20 meeting, the airport’s attorney said the conditions — including ones that would restrict take-off and landing times by the hangar tenants to between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. in most cases and ones that would not allow the runway to ever be extended or any more hangars to be added in the future — were too restrictive and “make the construction of these hangars not a practical endeavor.”

A copy of the full conditional use adjudication is available on the township’s website, www.eastrockhilltownship.org.

At the July 18 meeting, the board heard from supporters of the airport’s plans.

“I don’t believe that you folks understand the good Pennridge does for the community,” Norman Clemmer, owner of Clemmer Moving & Storage in Hilltown and a tenant in one of the existing hangars, told the board.

That includes Angel Flight and other transports for medical care, including organ transplants, he said.

“My company contributes roughly $5 million a year directly into the local economy,” Clemmer said. “I can attribute at least a million dollars of that revenue to my airplane.”

Having a plane helps make the business more competitive, he said.

“The rules that you imposed on Pennridge Airport would make me either move my airplane to another airport that has a hangar or sell it,” Clemmer said.

In order to travel to places such as Chicago, he might have to leave the night before to be within the new conditions, he said.

“Right now I can just leave at 5 in the morning if I have to,” Clemmer said.

Perkasie resident Bob Miracle said he is a pilot with two hangars at the airport.

“There is a lot of good going on out of that airport,” Miracle said, listing things including Angel Flight, Santa Claus’ annual arrival at the airport, local business and job events, the skydiving business and aircraft maintenance shop.

Most of the airport is open space and will remain that under the airport’s plans, he said.

“It’s a lot better in my opinion than being filled with houses, bringing all the traffic and everything else and the extra noise that comes with that,” Miracle said.

“The people involved very much want it to stay an airport and that’s very important,” Miracle said, but added, “They’re business people and they have a limited amount of time and plans and if it’s not gonna be an airport, it’s gonna be something else. It’s just that simple.”

One of the issues raised by neighbors during the conditional use hearing was noise, especially during early morning takeoffs by jets.

Average noise levels at the airport are low, Miracle said. Planes glide in for a landing and when a plane takes off, the noise is only for a short time, he said.

“It’s a very rural airport, very quiet overall,” Miracle said.

Bill Edmonds, an owner of B&G Manufacturing in Hatfield, called Pennridge Airport “a phenomenal asset.”

“It’s a very safe and efficient airport to operate out of and that’s why we keep our aircraft there,” said Edmonds, who grew up in Hilltown and attended Pennridge School District.

“It’s a big attraction for us and for other businesses that would want to move into this area,” Edmonds said of the airport.

“Profitable companies want to have their people mobile,” he said. “They want to have an aircraft and have access to it.”

His advice to the board is to work with the airport, he said.

“It can provide huge flow-down benefits in terms of jobs, in terms of tax base, in terms of open space,” Edmonds said. It brings in tax revenue without adding to the number of students in the schools or requiring much other services, he said.

Grant Johnson, who has an aircraft and hangar at the airport, said general aviation is on the decline in the United States.

Now a Doylestown resident, Johnson said he got some of his flight training at Pennridge Airport and in the past lived near the airport and worked there. In the 1970s, it was busier than it now is, he said.

“The current airport management is merely trying to get the airport to break even,” Johnson said.

Those opposed to the plans should take into account what might happen if the airport were sold because it could not expand the buildings and add income, he said.

There is more noise from a neighboring gun club than from the airport, he said.

“There are a large number of residents around the airport that are in support of it and we can organize and become politically active if necessary to support the airport,” Johnson said.

There are no plans to extend the runway and the additional hangars will not mean that larger planes will be coming to the airport, he said. The hangars will house planes that are now kept outside at the airport, he said.

Recent laws mandate that business planes have to meet new quieter noise standards, he said.

“Small business aircraft of the type we’re talking about just don’t create that much noise, and they don’t fly continuously,” Johnson said. “They only pass over a residence for a short period of time.”

Jean Curry, the airport’s manager and an East Rockhill resident, said she’s disappointed in the township board for the conditions placed on the airport’s plans.

Board Chairman David Nyman is also a Pennridge Chamber of Commerce board member, she noted.

“You’re supposed to be pro-business and it seems every time anybody in this township that has a business and wants to expand, you guys do a real big number on them,” Curry said, telling the three board members she will never again vote for any of them.

The airport on Ridge Road currently has three hangar buildings with a combined 14 units, according to information given during the conditional use hearing. The new plans would add two hangar buildings with a combined nine units, with the new hangars located near the existing ones and replacing outdoor airplane tie-downs, the airport said. There are currently about 40 airplanes at the airport, three of which are jets, the airport said.

In a separate move, the airport is also planning to add a business park. Part of the airport property is in East Rockhill and part in Perkasie. The initial business park buildings will be in Perkasie, with others later being built in East Rockhill, airport representatives have said. Concerns have been raised in East Rockhill and West Rockhill about traffic from the business park.

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