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Joyce Clark Unfiltered

For "the rest of the story"

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Isbell Construction
Airport

Glendale has had more than one airport in its recent past. According to Ron Chavez’ book “The Valley Airports of the Past,” this airfield “began as the Isbell Construction Company Airfield, a privately-owned airstrip built in 1955 at 80th & Olive Avenues. The airport was used as an aerial crop seeding & spraying operation, had a dirt strip that measured 2,400′, and ran in a north/south direction (17/35) between Grand & Olive Avenues.”He goes on to say “After the closure of Paradise & Phoenix Airhaven Airports, the Isbell Construction Company Airfield became available for general public use and general aviation aircraft began using the airport in 1966.” At the same time its name was changed to Glendale Airhaven Airport.  But it was too small and buried within a corner of a block near Grand Avenue and Olive. Old abandoned urban area airfields often suffered the same fate and were plowed up, torn down and covered with homes and buildings but remnants of this airfield field remain. As of the late 1980’s one could still see the runway and hanger.

In the early 1980’s the city decided to build a new airport and close Glendale Airhaven. A citizen’s group was formed to decide on a location for a new airport to be known as the Glendale Municipal Airport. One of the members of this citizens’ group was – any guesses? – Why, former Mayor Elaine Scruggs. There were two final options for its location. One site was in undeveloped north Glendale and the other was its present location.  Urban legend has it that Scruggs pushed hard for its current location and prevailed despite the location’s many flaws.

photo 3By 1987 the 477 acre Glendale Municipal Airport opened and was ready for business. Its new single runway eventually grew to 7,150 feet and could accommodate small jets. Hangers were built on the south and north sides of the main terminal building. It became the new location of the Thunderbird Balloon Race. But there was trouble in this new, city paradise. The south hangers languished and were never even remotely fully occupied. The owner declared bankruptcy and the hangers were auctioned off. The city attempted to acquire them but its bid was rejected as too low and they were acquired by a private party. To this day while they are available for lease but they remain almost entirely vacant. The reasons are complicated.  By the mid-90’s the city discontinued hosting the balloon race as the number of spectators it drew overwhelmed airport facilities.

For the next dozen years the airport continued its slow but steady growth. The city hosted the Super Bowl. That event showed what its future held as many corporate jets landed there because of its close proximity to the University of Phoenix Stadium. Top name concert performers and their entourages would also use the airport because it was so conveniently close to their performance venue, Jobing.com Arena.

Then two major events occurred. The national economy suffered a deep recession and the nation’s climb out of it has been slow and painful; and the owner of the south hangers sued the city and lodged a complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). He contended that the city allowed the owners of the north hangers more liberal use of their hangers that that with which he was allowed. He prevailed and won a substantial judgment and the FAA now had Glendale’s airport on its radar screen and mandated major changes.

In the next blog we’ll look at the airport today…its challenges and its potential.

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photo 3Over the next couple of weeks I will be sharing the history and current condition of the city’s airport. The reason for this long overdue discussion is the resurrection of John F. Long’s Trust (read Jake Long and siblings) to once again bring forward an excavation and mining operation across Glen Harbor Blvd. and 450 feet away from the airport proper. To give you some perspective the length of a football field is 100 yards or 300 feet. The proposed mining operation would be only 1 ½ football fields away from the airport.

Why should you, as a Glendale resident or user of the city airport, care? A 20 or 30 year mining operation across the street from the airport will create irrevocable economic harm to the entire city. The city is working hard to maintain the airport as a viable entity and to reinvigorate it with new economic development.  An active, healthy city airport earns sales tax revenue for the city and contributes to a more robust city economy. This proposed project is in direct contradiction to the city’s goal.

We have seen that the airport has the potential to be economically successful during the city’s hosting of the Super Bowl. Dozens of corporate jets flew into the city airport because of its close proximity to Westgate, the Renaissance Hotel and the Stadium. When the national great recession hit, it stopped all economic growth at the airport in its tracks. The airport has yet to recover.

What is this project all about?  Several years ago, Jake Long (John F. Long’s son who took over the business after his Father passed away) met with former Mayor Scruggs and me to propose a Special Use District Overlay for their land. At that time we indicated that we could not and would not support such a proposal. The Long’s went away knowing that there was no support on the former council to move forward with their request.

photo 1The current proposal and its presentation are very slick. In it there are 4 phases of development including mining, commercial, office, light industrial and an option for live/work but none of the non-mining development will occur until after the mining operation has stripped the land of every nickel it can produce. That will be in 20 or 30 years. To make the mining more palatable the carrot is to develop the land for airport related commercial uses but not for many, many years. Their stated reason for requesting the mining is, “This SUD will provide a reliable mechanism to finance the installation of necessary infrastructure without coming to the City for support or overwhelming the site with private debt.” The city is not required nor bound to finance infrastructure for a private developer. That is the developer’s responsibility. So what they are really saying is that they don’t want to be responsible for their own loan to develop the infrastructure on their property.

Why is this not a good project? It is in direct opposition to economic development of the airport. Do you see mining at Deer Valley Airport or Goodyear Airport? No, of course not. It will create visual, auditory and environmental blight. Visually, across the street from the airport, 450 feet away will be a 10’ dirt berm (that’s about half the height of your home) and behind it will be a pit with the excavation equipment. Noise from the heavy equipment will be heard at the airport, all day long, 365 days a year and will create auditory blight. Environmentally, dirt and dust will drift, every day, from the mining operation on to the airport and will damage delicate aircraft engines and supporting aircraft equipment. That’s a given as winds in the Valley typically blow from west or southwest to the east. This mining operation is directly west of the airport.

What can you do to let the city know that you do not support this proposed project? You can do two things. Right now, as you are reading this fire off a letter to the city’s Planning Director, Jon Froke, asking him to recommend denial of this proposed project. Below is a sample letter that you can use. Please add your own reason for your opposition:

Your name

Your address

 

City of Glendale Planning

Attn: Jon Froke

5850 West Glendale Avenue, Suite 212

Glendale, Arizona 85301-2599

 

Dear Mr. Froke:

I oppose the use of land immediately adjacent to and across Glen Harbor Blvd. for the purpose of mining and excavation because (fill in your reason here).

I urge the your department to recommend denial to the Planning Commission and the City Council of the proposed Special Use District Overlay (SUD) requested. Thank you for your consideration of my request.

 

Sincerely,

Your name

 

If you are a Glendale resident living anywhere in the city or have used/currently using the airport you should plan to attend the Public Meeting hosted by the applicant. Mark your calendars now. I will be there to voice my opposition. The meeting will be:

 

Monday, August 5, 2013 at 6 p.m.

Airport Conference Room (second floor)

Glendale Municipal Airport

6801 North Glen Harbor Boulevard

Glendale, Arizona

 

photo 2Numbers count in this matter. What do we typically do when asked? We say someone else will do it or my voice doesn’t count. Not this time. Your voice added to dozens of others will be the catalyst to stop this proposed project. After all, the Glendale Airport needs your help.

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