Plan to build hangars at Great Barrington airport clears first hurdle

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GREAT BARRINGTON — A rejiggered plan for new hangars at the Walter J. Koladza Airport is closer to approval after the town Planning Board vetted the project last month and deemed it sound.

The board voted unanimously to send a positive recommendation on the project to the Select Board; Jonathan Hankin recused himself from the vote because his property abuts it.

The Select Board now will consider during an Aug. 10 hearing whether to grant a special permit, which would allow the developer to return to the Planning Board for a more in-depth site plan review of the project.

Berkshire Aviation Enterprises wants to build six new hangars that would hold up to 36 planes, according to its application. The hangars would only be used for their storage and some equipment, but won't be used for maintenance or anything else, according to James Scalise, an engineer with SK Design Group. The buildings would involve a new access driveway from Seekonk Cross Road, and each hangar would have six parking spaces outside, one per storage unit.

Board members considered environmental, traffic and other potential ramifications in an area surrounded by homes and farmland, and agreed that planes — currently tied down on the grass — are less of a pollution risk from fluid leaks and stormwater runoff if stored inside on a concrete platform. They also said that the airport is an important community resource. Issues such as traffic and lighting will be studied at the site-plan review.

The new plan comes three years after the company withdrew its request to build three new hangars following a sustained outcry from neighbors who complained of a slew of issues, including low-flying planes, noise, and fears of water pollution to what is a protected area. While the airport is one of several known threats to the water supply, engineers say tight state regulations are protective, and that the new hangars would only improve safety.

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In 2017, the Planning Board also gave the project a positive recommendation, but after a charged series of Select Board hearings for the same permit it is now seeking, the company decided to withdraw the application and regroup.

The special permit would formally give the airport permission to operate as an aviation field. The airport, which predates zoning, does not conform to an area marked for residential/agricultural use.

Town officials say the airport, which began operating in the 1930s, should be allowed to upgrade its operations on the site, which will also increase revenue.

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"We could make an argument that the homes built around the airport are objectionable to the the airport," said board member Pedro Pachano.

Those comments didn't sit well with some neighbors, who oppose any additions to the facility.

"My house near the airport is 200 years old," said resident Marcia Stamell in an email to The Eagle. "And several other houses here predate aviation itself."

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Stamell argued that town government should put the needs of residents before those of businesses and airplanes.

Chairwoman Brandee Nelson said she worries that stifling a legal airport's ability to upgrade could result in other problems.

"Quite frankly I'd rather see a functioning airport than an abandoned airport," she said.

Scalise made it clear that the airport will not expand beyond its current footprint, since it can't further extend its half-mile runway.

And board member Jeremy Higa said while expansion would be objectionable, "It doesn't really appear that this is an expansion."

Heather Bellow can be reached at hbellow@berkshireeagle.com or on Twitter @BE_hbellow and 413-329-6871.


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