Developers May be Limited on Site near Centennial Airport

Two local development companies want to create a storybook community in Centennial, complete with 1,615 housing units, trails, parks and a retail center.

But there's a major hurdle: The proposed site of the new neighborhood is a 380-acre swath of unincorporated land near Centennial Airport, where residential development is currently not allowed.

The companies behind the project - Armstrong Capital Development and 7353 Investments - want Centennial to annex the land and rezone it to allow residential buildings.

Airport and Arapahoe County officials, though, strongly oppose the idea, saying it could severely diminish the airport's long-term viability. They fear that allowing homes in the area would create an avalanche of noise complaints and open the door for more development that could deter businesses from using the airport - a busy hub for private and corporate jets.

"This would literally expose thousands of new residents to a lot of noise, and that translates into noise complaints," said Robert Olislagers, the airport's executive director. "Eventually, there could be enough opposition that businesses will decide to go elsewhere."

The proposal has become a contentious issue in recent weeks as the Centennial City Council prepares to vote tonight on whether to allow a pre-annexation agreement that essentially would pave the way for the project. Developers would still have to go through the annexation process.

The development, called Tanterra at Centennial, calls for construction of 1,615 residential units, 500,000 square feet of retail and office space and some off-site improvements. The project's price tag would run in the tens of millions of dollars, although developers didn't give an exact estimate.

The proposed site sits on several parcels - owned by various investors - just east of Centennial Airport in Dove Valley. The land is zoned for several uses, including commercial and industrial. A previous agreement between Arapahoe County and the owners of the parcels bars residential development on the site because of its proximity to the airport.

Centennial Airport is one of the busiest general-aviation airports in the country, handling nearly 320,000 takeoffs and landings in 2006. Airport officials say the development would put homes just 1,600 feet from the end of its east runway, and many planes fly at low altitudes over the proposed site.

Noise already is an issue for the airport. It received a record 11,000 such complaints last year, "many coming from distances far greater than this proposed project," Olislagers said. Some residents have even threatened to boycott companies that use the airport - a major concern about the Tanterra project.

"If a company thinks enough other people feel that way, they'll pull out," Olislagers said.

Airport officials say the development could create safety issues as well, as there have been several accidents and emergency landings in area.

Arapahoe County planning officials and the National Business Aviation Association, which represents 7,000 companies that rely on general aviation, back the airport's stance.

But Armstrong Capital argues that their fears are unfounded, saying noise in the area - using a widely accepted measure - is well within acceptable levels for residential communities near airports.

Armstrong emphasized that most planes use the airport's north-south runway anyway - not the one close to Tanterra.

"We don't believe that this development in any way threatens the viability of the airport," said Greg Armstrong, a partner with Armstrong Capital.

The development, supporters argue, would help Centennial bring in more tax dollars, attract more residents and clean up an area that's increasingly becoming an eyesore.

Centennial Mayor Randy Pye acknowledged the importance of the airport economically and said he has "significant concerns" about the amount of residential units in the prospective plan.

Still, he said the development would help Centennial gain some type of say over the fate of the unincorporated land.

"I have to weigh having no control over the land or having control but with a residential component," Pye said. "Our biggest fear is that someone else will come in with more outdoor storage and barbed wire and really shoddy- looking development."

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