Stratford backs Sikorsky Airport plan

STRATFORD -- The Town Council has paved the way for what could be Sikorsky Memorial Airport's biggest and most costly upgrade.

The council voted unanimously late last night to approve a proposal for Stratford to receive nearly $200,000 a year -- a payment in lieu of taxes -- from a company that wants to replace the aging terminal and add $135,000 square feet of new hangar and office space at the Bridgeport-owned airport.

The project, however, still needs to be approved by the Zoning Commission.

That commission, which conducted a public hearing on the $30 million proposal by Aircraft Facilities Group, LLC, will likely vote on the plan during its next administrative meeting. That session is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 10 in Town Hall.

"This is a no-brainer and can only be of major benefit to the town," said council Minority Leader Alvin O'Neal, D-2, who was on a three-member subcommittee that negotiated the deal.

"We have never been able to collect a dime in taxes from the city of Bridgeport for the airport, and this would guarantee the town finally receives money long overdue," said O'Neal. Officials in the two communities have been at odds for years over Bridgeport's refusal to pay taxes to Stratford for the airport, which is entirely within Stratford's borders.

That would change, however, as AFG would pay the town $185,000 in the first year with percentage increases each year based on the growth in the Consumer Price Index, O'Neal said.

Town Council Majority Leader Michael Henrick, R-10, also a member of the negotiating committee, said he strongly supports the proposal despite concerns by some residents that the upgrade could lead to airport expansion, which neighbors and most town officials still oppose.

"This has absolutely nothing to do with expanding the airport, and the fact is Stratford would finally receive money we should have been getting in tax revenue for decades," Henrick said. "I expect the Zoning Commission will also approve the proposal,"

Councilman Michael Julian, R-1, who represents the airport district, was also on the special subcommittee and strongly supports the plan. Bridgeport Mayor John M. Fabrizi previously said both communities would benefit from the upgrade, because the companies would pay the city a percentage of their revenue, while Stratford would receive payment in lieu of taxes on the privately owned structures and equipment.

The two companies that comprise AFG are Volo Aircraft and PrivateAir Inc., which won a bid to upgrade the airport two years ago.

In presenting the proposal to the Zoning Commission last month, project managers for the two companies stressed the upgrade is not related to a long-sought plan by airport officials and the city of Bridgeport to expand a runway.

The Federal Aviation Administration wants the airport to extend the runway to accommodate buffer zones for safety, but Stratford officials and neighbors have fought that plan for years.