STRATFORD, Conn. -- A Bridgeport company is moving ahead with a half-million-dollar plan to provide more hangar space at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, even as lawmakers in Hartford gear up for a hearing today that could lead to a state takeover of the airport.
New England Hangar Development LLC has submitted a proposal to the town's Zoning Commission that calls for constructing a cluster of "T-hangars" at the 800-acre airport to house small, private aircraft.
The company wants to build as many as 63 of the portable, metal-frame structures. Each hangar would be 10 feet high and 33 feet wide, placed side by side on a closed runway at the southern end of the airport property near Lordship Boulevard.
The proposal is scheduled to go to a public hearing when the zoning panel meets at 7 p.m. March 20 in Town Hall.
The company has been given permission by Airport Manager John Ricci and the city of Bridgeport, which owns the airport, to seek approval from the Stratford Zoning Commission.
If that happens, the company will still have to come back to Bridgeport for final approval.
Under its plan, the company would clear the debris-strewn "South Ramp," a former runway near Lordship Boulevard, which is within a residential zone, and set up T-hangars to provide "airplane garages" for local pilots, said New England Hangar Development Co-president Gene Shapiro.
"The south end of the airport has an old runway shut down in the 1980s for noise abatement that is filled with debris and junk, and is a place where some pilots park their planes," Shapiro said. "Many of the pilots and aircraft owners want to have their own little area to park away from all the businesses -- local guys who would be able to park their aircraft inside a sheltered hangar," he said. "Planes left outside undergo a tremendous amount of damage from the elements and there is a need for protection."
But that protection would be costly.
The hangars would sell for between $40,000 and $50,000 each. Pilots would then have to pay about $180 monthly to the city of Bridgeport to lease the space, as well as an additional property tax to the town of Stratford.
"It's a win for everybody," Shapiro said. "The pilots would have the opportunity to park their planes inside, the city would receive money from leases and Stratford would get tax revenue."
David Faile, a Fairfield pilot and president of the 650-member Friends of Sikorsky Memorial Airport, said a cluster of 63 T-hangars is a "great idea" for the airport.
"There is a crying need for hangars to shelter airplanes at the airport," Faile said. "A lot of people have airplanes they leave outside, but this would allow the planes to be out of the sun in summer, and out of snow and ice in winter and would help the aircraft last longer."
Both Shapiro and Faile, however, said they expect some Lordship residents, long opposed to any kind of expansion or changes at the airport, to come out against the proposal.
Residents have complained about noise, traffic and pollution near and around the airport, but at least one of them said Friday he has no problem with the hangar proposal.
"I don't think it would have anything to do with noise. These structures are just like sheds in the backyard, and I don't have a problem with it," said Walter Rimkunas, a 76-year-old retiree who lives on Second Avenue.
Shapiro, in fact, says that by keeping the planes in hangars, they will be less noisy and make a more appealing, superior appearance.
"There are 30 planes that are just left outside along that old runway right now," Shapiro said. "This proposal would only make things better by cleaning all that up and giving pilots some protection for their planes."
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