Airport says no thanks to truce on Craig; The aviation authority, councilman stay at odds over the longer-runway proposal

The Jacksonville Aviation Authority will continue fighting to extend one of its 4,000-foot runways at Craig Municipal Airport after turning down a City Council member who offered to stop trying to derail the plan if the authority took a break on its own.

Council member Bill Bishop told the authority board Monday that if the authority pulled back from its attempts to change the comprehensive plan - a necessary step toward extending the runway - he would pull legislation designed to quash the effort.

But the board said it is vital for public safety to take the runway out to 6,000 feet, a project that residents near the airport have fought for about 40 years. At a number of public meetings, residents have accused the authority of backtracking on past promises to leave the runway at its current length, while the authority has said past promises don't take into account the changes that have occurred in aviation and in the size of Jacksonville over the past four decades.

"This should not be about emotions," board member Mary Burnett said during Monday's meeting.

"I agree," Bishop said.

"It should not be about politics."

"I agree."

"It should be about right and wrong. This needs to be done."

"I respectfully disagree."

After Bishop left the meeting to allow the board to ponder the offer, board members decided to continue the plan change, a move they said would allow the issue to be aired.

"The process has begun," board member Cyrus Jollivette said. "It should go forward."

The authority board tabled another Craig-related issue that came up Monday: How much to charge a tenant who wants to lease land near the airport.

A year ago, the authority agreed to lease about 11 acres at the corner of St. Johns Bluff Road and Monument Road to a developer for a strip mall.

The land has to be rezoned to be used for retail purposes, though, and the City Council and Planning Department have told the authority it has to keep about 6 acres of the land as a permanent conservation easement if it wanted the rezoning to go through.

In response, the authority dropped the rent it would charge from $183,500 to $95,000, representing the same rent per square foot.

That's too much of a drop, board member Jack Demetree said, particularly taking into account that the rest of the land would henceforth be unprofitable.

"We're taking too big a haircut," Demetree said. "All of it's falling on our back."

One way out of the dilemma, Executive Director John Clark said, was to revisit the permanent easement later.

Although Demetree suggested splitting the cut in rent with the developer - charging it about $140,000 a year - the board voted to table the discussion until its next meeting. (904) 359-4103