Los Angeles Air Park's Expansion Gets OK

AGUA DULCE - Agua Dulce Air Park got permission to lengthen its runway and add hangars in a split vote by county planners.

But the 3-2 decision in favor of owner Wayne Spears, who took over the air strip in September, may be short-lived. Residents worried about more noise and flights over their homes are expected to appeal the decision to the county Board of Supervisors.

Regional Planning Commissioners Harold Helsley, Wayne Rew and Esther Valadez voted in support of the changes, while Leslie Bellamy and Pat Modugno dissented.

Helsley, who supports the airport's right to operate and was impressed by Spears' signage warning pilots against aerobatics, appeared optimistic he would ensure the facility is a good neighbor in this community of 4,000.

``We are going to see better enforcement and better community relations,'' he said.

Besides runway extension and a 20-room ``airtel,'' the amended permit will allow five aircraft storage hangars totaling 54,000 square feet, one 18,000-square-foot service hangar, 250,000 square feet of exterior aircraft parking and longer hours for the airtel restaurant.

It mandates zoning inspectors give a two-hour notice before going to the airport and for the owner to voluntarily restrict use by jet aircraft, aerobatics, parachute jumping and other dangerous flying.

``We've already started doing things,'' Spears, an area resident since 1976, told the commission. ``If we have pilots who aren't doing what they're supposed to do - I don't want them here.''

Still, commission chair Modugno remained ill at ease allowing the expansion without further scrutiny.

``What troubles me most of all is we're dealing with a permit that's 44 years old,'' said Modugno, who represents the 5th county supervisorial district, which includes Agua Dulce. ``The airtel is there but never stood any level of scrutiny.

``There seems to be some acquiescence to keeping the airport they're comfortable with. It's the unknown (impacts of the expansion that have troubled opponents).''

Modugno proposed changing the permit to allow some expansion for Spears to build trust with the community, then have the airport owner return to seek further improvements, which will undergo further regulator scrutiny.

``I recognize the applicant will be squirming around on that - they have full entitlement ... even if its 44 years old,'' he said. ``(It would) stop this back and forth that has turned neighbor against neighbor.''

But Valadez believes this would only engender further strife between airport operators and opponents, who for decades have been unable to come to terms.

``To have this continue in the community is a bad idea,'' she said. ``We need to have this go somewhere. What we've done by doing that is that we'll open it up again. We have done the best that we can.''

Some opponents have argued the airport's expansion permit is void because some conditions, which fall under Federal Aviation Administration jurisdiction, were invalidated. But county attorneys said only a court could make that decision - a recourse if the county supervisors are unable to resolve the conflict.

Lloyd Kirschbaum, an aviation attorney retained by an airport expansion opponent, called the commission's vote short-sighted.

``It makes absolutely no sense that the reason that this permit isn't valid is because the court hasn't said so yet, even though we're pretty sure when it gets to the court, that's exactly what they're going to say,'' he said.

``To force this issue and to have it completely back to square one, it's incredibly short-sighted.''

Eugene Tong, (661) 257-5253

eugene.tong@dailynews.com



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