Allegheny County Demolishing 15 Hangars to Build 12 New Ones

On a recent sunny afternoon, Stephen Green was busy tearing down his small aircraft hangar at the Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin

Mr. Green, of Fayette City, is furious with the Allegheny County Airport Authority, which is moving forward on a master plan that involves demolishing 15 small, privately owned aircraft hangars to make way for 12 new ones that will be owned by the county.

He said the county gave him 30 days to remove his hangar from land he has leased for a decade or more.

"I will never give this airport business again," said Mr. Green, who was on the roof of his T-hangar to dismantle it and has moved his small plane to the airport in Mount Pleasant Township.

He accused the Airport Authority of taking the property of private individuals "so they can spend $2 million to put lipstick on a pig."

Kent George, executive director of the county Airport Authority, said leases had been canceled, but that hangar owners could continue to rent them at a higher rate until May 1, when they must vacate them.

Mr. George said the changes coming to the airport were designed to make the facility, which opened in 1931, competitive with other regional airports.

"We have seen an exodus of people leaving the Allegheny County Airport and going to other airports," Mr. George said.

But long-term tenants who are faced with losing their hangars said this latest move was another example of mismanagement and was going to send them packing as well.

The county is taking 15 hangars and giving those tenants the choice of leaving or renting a new one, at a higher rate, with a lease that many find untenable.

"Terminating our leases as a vehicle to confiscate our hangars is simply not right, and it would drive most of us to surrounding airports," Harry C. Neel, spokesman for the Allegheny County Airport Association of hangar owners, wrote to the Airport Authority chairman last fall, when the matter was still under discussion.

Don Lang, of Economy, who served on the advisory committee for the county's new master plan of the airport, said the new rental agreements for current tenants had insurance and hazardous remediation requirements that are untenable.

"They take my hangar away with no compensation, which they have a right to do, and they have written a lease that I can't sign in good conscience," said Mr. Lang, president of the Astro Flying Club, which keeps a Cessna Cardinal in a T-hangar.

West Mifflin Mayor John Andzelik is fretting over the potential loss of tax revenue for the borough and school district as a result of the changes.

Currently, tenants who own hangars at the airport pay real estate taxes on the buildings, even though they lease the land that the hangars are on.

Mr. George said the county would apply for tax-exempt status for the hangars it plans to build.

He said there was a provision in state law that designates property used for aviation as tax- exempt.

"We are in competition with other airports," Mr. George said. "We are merely going to apply through the proper process for tax-exempt status."

Mr. Andzelik said he had repeatedly asked for a meeting with county officials to discuss the potential impact but had gotten "no satisfaction at all."

"We are concerned about a loss of tax base, loss of prestige and losses to local businesses," he said.

Mr. George said the Airport Authority couldn't undo bad management of the past, which allowed tenants to operate on month-to-month leases. Several times in the past, the county tried to make major changes at the county airport, he said, but it never happened.

Mr. George said the master plan was designed to put "professionalism and good management back into the airport."

He said the county was getting inquiries from people who are interested in the new hangars and that he would like to see the existing tenants stay and sign new leases.

"We want them to stay," Mr. George said, adding that the county is giving existing tenants free tie-down rents for their planes if they commit to leasing one of the new hangars. Construction is to begin May 1.

But many longtime tenants are moving on, looking for space elsewhere.

Thomas Reimer, of West Mifflin, plans to tear down his four hangars; one is free-standing, three are part of a T-hangar complex.

"I don't need the Allegheny County Airport," said Mr. Reimer, who said he had made a personal investment to the tune of $70,000.

"I will be gone. I will destroy four buildings," he said.

Mr. Lang said the county never looked at options that would have allowed facilities to expand on empty land instead of tearing down what is there.

"If you want to run this like a business, why don't you fix the things you have that are falling down," Mr. Lang said.

He thinks the county has an agenda that doesn't include people such as him.

"They don't want the little guys here," he said.



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