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Speculation about Lancaster Airport expansion riles residents

Speculation that the Buffalo Lancaster Airport is on the verge of an expansion that could bring jets to the facility has upset a determined group of Lancaster residents who have long been fighting to stop any further expansion at the airport.

Founders of the Safe Aviation Coalition of Lancaster, including neighbors who say their quality of life and property values are affected by low-flying planes using the airport dominated debate at the Lancaster Town Board meeting Monday night.

The volatile issue kicked up when the board voted to set a public hearing for 7:15 p.m. July 1 on a proposed special-use permit that the airport is applying for.

A somewhat related move muddied the debate when the board set another public hearing for the same evening to consider a proposed local law which would clarify permitted uses in the town’s light-industrial zoning district.

Airport officials could not be reached to comment before press time late Monday, but they indicated in March 2012 that they were looking to sell the facility due to mounting frustration over high taxes, strict regulations and neighbor opposition.

Also last year, the airport sought to build a longer runway in a bid to bring in larger aircraft, but stiff residential battling and opposition from Supervisor Dino Fudoli thwarted those efforts.

The airport filed plans earlier this month with the town, Fudoli said, but described it “as an overkill of information.”

Part of the problem is that the rural airport, which is off Walden Avenue near Pavement and Ransom roads, operates under what many say are ambiguous circumstances that may not be covered by the town’s code.

Residents largely feel that the airport currently violates the town’s zoning laws and never was given a permitted use in the town’s light-industrial zone.

They also argued that airport activity, which mostly involves single-engine planes, destroys their quality of life and inhibits the future residential development of prime undeveloped land near the airport.

“It’s annoying. Very annoying,” said David Hangauer, who lives on Nichter Road and is a chief opponent of the airport. In a later interview, he said that he cannot talk in his home when planes are flying over his neighborhood and that his home’s windows rattle when twin-engine planes fly over.

Resident Lee Chowaniec was furious with the airport. “The airport has never been a conforming use – never in light-industrial use,” he said. By granting the airport that designation, the town would open itself to further airport expansion, he contended.

“What stands in the way of them getting expansions? Time,” Chowaniec said. “People do not want to see further expansion.”

Later in the meeting, which was dominated by debate about the airport, Chowaniec called the airport’s explanations “a bunch of lies.”

Fudoli was the only one on the Town Board to vote against setting a public hearing on the special-use permit application by the airport.

“I guess the cat’s out of the bag,” Fudoli said. “I’ve met with the airport people. Quite honestly, I don’t agree with what their agenda is.”

Residents also complain that the airport’s change in flight pattern dating to 2006 is not recorded in any town records and they challenge its missing master plan from town records.

“My concern is to protect the taxpayers so it doesn’t impact them,” Fudoli said after the meeting.

Fudoli said airport officials would not give him any assurances last year when he met with them that they would not expand their 3,200-foot runway. “They could fly jets if they expanded the runway,” he said.

Councilman Mark Aquino, who sponsored the resolution calling for the public hearings, said he does not have an opinion on the airport and wants to see what public input yields.

“I’m trying to get the airport agreement aired out from 2010,” he said. “I have taken no position on this airport and wasn’t even a board member when this first came up.”