City says plan needs to dispel public's fears

Looking for more public buy-in, city leaders are sending the proposed Venice Municipal Airport 20-year build-out plan back to consultants and an advisory board for tweaking. They want the plan to alleviate public fears that the airport's build-out will shatter Venice's quiet atmosphere.

"Changes at the airport need to be understood by the community," said City Manager Marty Black, who asked for clear graphics that show the effects of build-out and more explanation of what city taxpayers would spend to bring the 60-year-old airport up to current Federal Aviation Administration safety standards.

The City Council voted 5-1 on Tuesday, with Council member John Simmonds the sole no vote, to give the Airport Advisory Board a second run at the plan that has been widely criticized by people who dread the idea of more planes, hangars and private development in the area.

"If you build it, they will come," resident Don Marik told the council. "And very few of us want that."

The airport's long-term build-out plan includes an air traffic control tower, 80 new hangar units, a new $3.75 million terminal building and a price tag of $61 million by 2025, though projections have less than $5 million of that total coming from local tax dollars.

The possibility of almost 280,000 take-offs and landings a year at the airport by 2025, along with construction that would extend runway buffer zones and emergency vehicle access points beyond current airport boundaries, has some residents up in arms.

City leaders, the Airport Advisory Board and the consultants, MEA Group, say the fears are overblown and largely the result of misunderstandings.

"We still keep getting the misconception over and over again ... we are not upping (the airport) to something bigger," said Council member Bill Willson.

Some are also wary of future development on airport land. The proposed master plan includes possibly turning 142 acres into money-making enterprises ranging from small factories to a marina. MEA Group stressed that future development outlined in the plan does not have to happen.

City leaders also want the master plan to carve out acreage to be reserved for public performances, fundraisers and community events. Airport grounds are now used for a wide range of these kinds of activities, from the Annual Sarasota Highland Games & Heritage Festival to the Venice Italian Feast & Carnival.

Staff writer Patrick Whittle contributed to this story.



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