Panel to set up payment for airport taxes

STRATFORD -- A special committee has been appointed by the Town Council to negotiate an annual payment in lieu of taxes to the town as part of a $30 million plan to upgrade Sikorsky Memorial Airport.

The three-member committee was empaneled hours after the Zoning Commission on Tuesday delayed voting on the project, the biggest and most expensive upgrade in the airport's history.

Appointed to the panel were council Majority Leader Michael Henrick, R-10; Minority Leader Alvin O'Neal, D-2; and Councilman Michael Julian, R-1, who represents the airport district. They will meet with the two companies planning the project and negotiate terms of the new agreement.

With the airport owned by the city of Bridgeport but in Stratford, officials in both communities have been at odds for years over Bridgeport's refusal to pay taxes to Stratford.

Bridgeport Mayor John Fabrizi, however, said both communities would benefit, because the companies would pay the city a percentage of their operations, while Stratford would receive funds in lieu of taxes on the privately owned structures and equipment.

The two companies, Volo Aircraft and PrivateAir Inc. at Sikorsky, last month presented a $30 million proposal to the town's Zoning Commission to replace the aging main terminal, create new headquarters for the companies, and add 135,000 square feet of new hangar and building space.

Aircraft Facilities Group LLC, which won a bid to upgrade the Bridgeport-owned airport two years ago, presented plans during an October public hearing in Town Hall.

"We want to make sure the town's interests are represented so that we get the best bang for our buck," said Henrick, who is likely to become the council's new chairman next month.

Henrick said establishing the committee is important to ensuring Stratford is paid "the highest possible amount of money," in exchange for approving the plan.

In presenting the proposal to the zoning commission last month, project managers for the two companies stressed the upgrade would not be connected 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 opposed the proposal for years.

Zoning Commission Chairman Richard Fredette said the panel tabled the airport plan until it receives "vital information" from the Town Attorney Richard Buturla on whether to require an updated airport master plan.

Town Planning and Zoning Administrator Gary Lorentson sent an Oct. 17 letter to Buturla seeking his legal advice on the issue.

, which was brought up by residents during the Oct. 16 public hearing.

"Two residents who spoke in opposition to the plan stated that the airport should have a current airport master plan in place that addresses existing facilities and existing based aircraft, as well as aircraft forecasts for the future, before the commission makes a decision on this application," Lorentson says in the letter.

Buturla could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but Fredette said he expects a legal opinion to be rendered shortly.

The commission has 65 days from the Oct. 16 public hearing to render a decision on the proposal, zoning officials said.

Richard Weizel, who covers Stratford, can be reached at 330-6470.