NORTH ADAMS — Near the end of its meeting, Airport Commission Chairman Armand Boillat called for a motion to adjourn.
But City Administrative Officer Michael Canales stepped in. "Were you going to bring up the issue of the drop zone?" Canales asked.
Boillat proceeded to inform Alex Kelly— who had previously received the commission's approval to operate his skydiving business, Green Mountain Skydiving, out of the Harriman-and-West Airport — that his business would be on hold until the airport received federal approval for a skydiving drop zone.
"We have been in contact with the FAA and we will be submitting an application for review of a drop zone," Boillat said. "It's my understanding that it's a pure FAA call on that — they review the drop zone, they review the area, and their main concern in safety."
For Kelly, who is based in Bennington, Vt., the March 20 meeting was another last-minute curveball in what has become a bureaucratic nightmare as he looks to open Green Mountain Skydiving and Taconic Aviation, a scenic flight and flight instruction company.
Kelly eyed North Adams for operations this summer, as Bennington's runway will be closed for several months as it undergoes renovations.
He planned to launch the skydiving business in North Adams in April — and still intends to do so — but was told by the commission last week that the Federal Aviation Administration's approval may take 45 days.
"This is news to me because I have a current letter of authorization from you guys," Kelly said.
Kelly said that where he's operated it's never been a requirement for the FAA to authorize a drop zone.
But the commission said the approval was necessary because skydiving had not been conducted at the Harriman-and-West Airport before.
"This is a unique hurdle that has just been brought up now. I have a letter of operation. I'm expecting to open in another couple of weeks," Kelly said. "This has never been a hurdle, this has never been brought up, and suddenly it's brought up weeks before I'm supposed to open."
Boillat said the commission had only recently learned that it needed FAA approval for the skydiving operation.
The effort to secure space at the Harriman-and-West Airport has become a monthslong odyssey for Kelly.
Kelly purchased the airport's former scenic flight and flight instruction tenant, Teamflys, in December of last year with the intention of operating Taconic Aviation from its hangar space.
However, the city's airport commission decided that Kelly's purchase of the business did not entitle him to Teamflys' hangar space.
The hangar building came under city ownership last year, and the city's airport commission has decided to hold off on renting out any of the space to new tenants until it formulates clear leasing policies and guidelines.
Last month, Canales told the commission that the city had hired a municipal law firm to draft and help establish such guidelines, as well as a set of minimum standards for tenants.
The city has drafted a standard ground lease for every building at the airport, Canales said Tuesday. It will be reviewed at the commission's meeting next month.
At next month's meeting, the city will introduce a draft of a standard lease for hangar spaces at the city-owned hangar building. It will undergo the same public review process, a month after that meeting.
"We want to keep all of you involved going forward," Canales said.
Under that timeline, the absolute earliest that Kelly or any of the several other parties interested in the hangar space would be able to sign a lease would be in May — five months after he purchased Teamflys with the intention of using its space.
In the meantime, after several months of advocacy by Kelly, the commission agreed Tuesday to authorize Kelly to operate out of Harriman-and-West Airport — even though he does not yet have a specific space from which to do so.
"I wouldn't be opposed to having a flight school in there, as far as letting him operate out of the airport," said Commissioner Shaun Dougherty. "I just don't know about the space. ... There's quite a few others interested in it as well, and I think we really have to look at all the people that want to come into that spot. We've got a couple other businesses and another group that wants to come in."
An exasperated Kelly told The Eagle following the meeting that he would operate "out of the parking lot" if he had to.
"I'm confused why the town is so averse to someone investing here and bringing jobs. It seems like a new hurdle comes every month," he said.
Adam Shanks can be reached at email@example.com, at @EagleAdamShanks on Twitter, or 413-629-4517.