Charlotte Observer
10:29 am
Wed April 3, 2013

Charlotte Airport Looks To Buy Neighborhood's Land

An airplane is seen from Snow Ridge Lane, off of Steele Creek Road, as it departs to the south Tuesday afternoon, April 2.
Credit Davie Hinshaw / Charlotte Observer

  The neighborhood of cul-de-sacs in southwest Mecklenburg County would be quiet and secluded, with its woods and small lakes – except for the roar of passenger jets taking off and landing every minute or two for most of the day.

That noise, which has increased since the airport’s newest runway opened in 2010, is why many residents support Charlotte Douglas International Airport’s plan to buy 370 acres in the neighborhood, which has about 100 homes.

The estimated price tag: $35 million, most of which will be eligible for federal reimbursement.

The jets buzz overhead, about 700 of them every day. The big planes give off a loud, dull roar, while the smaller planes climb into the air with a shrill whistle. Talking outside can be difficult.

Audio clip of noise level near airport

“It’s not something we enjoy living with,” said Clifton Perry, a retired resident who has lived on Snow Ridge Lane for 16 years.

Aviation Director Jerry Orr said the airport needs the land to accommodate continued expansion. A new Norfolk Southern rail yard is opening just north of the neighborhood, and the rail yard needs more space for support functions. The new property will eventually be used for related businesses such as cargo and warehouses, Orr said.

He will ask the Charlotte City Council for permission April 22 to spend airport bond money to buy the land from homeowners who live south of the airport, between Steele Creek Road and Interstate 485.

Three-quarters of the cost would be eligible for reimbursement from the Federal Aviation Administration, and the remainder would be repaid with passenger fees.

Eight residents in the proposed airport expansion area have sued Charlotte over the noise, which they say is hurting their property values. The city hopes buying their property could resolve the lawsuits, according to a memo filed by the city manager’s office.

On Tuesday, some residents told the Observer they support the idea, even though they aren’t enthusiastic about leaving homes that many of them have lived in for a decade or longer.

“It’s very difficult to do anything in the yard in terms of entertaining. Even watching television inside, downstairs is tough sometimes,” Perry said.

The amount of aircraft noise has increased sharply, he said, especially since the airport opened its newest runway parallel to I-485 in 2010.

That runway has drawn complaints from nearby residents who say the noise interferes with their lives. Immediately south of the airport, many homes the airport is looking to buy receive 60 decibels or more of near-constant noise, somewhere between the level of background music and a vacuum cleaner, according to noise studies.

The sound is worst when planes land on that runway, located just north of the neighborhood, several residents told the Observer.

Still, Perry said he has mixed feelings about selling his home. “The thought of leaving is not a good thought,” he said.

The proposed expansion would push Charlotte Douglas’ border farther south to Shopton Road. The airport has been buying and demolishing homes in its noise zone for years, and has gradually pushed north of Wilkinson Boulevard and even west of I-485.

Possible airport authority

A bill to transfer control of the airport from Charlotte City Council to an independent authority is now being considered by the state legislature. The bill would also transfer all property owned by the airport to a new, 13-member regional authority. The airport currently owns about 6,000 acres, Orr said.

The airport will negotiate individually with homeowners who want to sell their property, if the City Council approves Orr’s proposal.

An airport authority would also have the ability to buy out homeowners who live near the airport, Orr said.

The land is just south of Norfolk Southern’s $95 million, new intermodal rail yard, located on the airport property off of West Boulevard. Construction is expected to finish next year, and the 200-acre facility will replace Norfolk Southern’s current rail yard on North Brevard Street near uptown. The facility is expected to turn Charlotte into an “inland port,” making it easier and faster to transfer cargo crates between trains and trucks.

The new land could be developed as “cargo support” to help the intermodal yard, Orr said. That could include uses such as warehouses or other facilities for freight shipping companies.

The airport is also planning to build a new, $160 million runway in between existing runways, possibly starting construction as soon as next year.

The airport often buys several properties a month near the airport. It’s uncommon, however, for the airport to buy hundreds of acres at a time. Some 150 homes and businesses were bought for the airport’s fourth runway, and almost 130 were displaced by the nearby stretch of I-485.

Other homes bought

Over the years, Charlotte Douglas has bought hundreds of homes from owners in neighborhoods affected by noise. The city typically negotiates a sale price with the homeowner after an independent appraisal. Many of the homes are then either torn down and replaced with airport-compatible uses, like manufacturing and warehouses, or left as vacant land.

For example, a former neighborhood at Wilkinson Boulevard and Barry Drive has been demolished, and the airport plans to build a new rental car maintenance facility there.

The houses in the areas Orr is seeking approval to purchase are single-family residences built from the 1950s to the 2000s. Most have assessed values in the $100,000 to $150,000 range, according to county property records.

On Dorcas Lane, James Bailey was using the sunny spring break weather Tuesday to plant a vegetable garden and bushes with his son in front of their house. The noise of planes taking off drowned out conversation every couple of minutes.

Still, Tuesday afternoon was comparatively quiet, Bailey said, since planes weren’t landing on the airport’s runway directly to the north.

“Sometimes, they fly right about the tree line,” he said.

Bailey has lived there for 20 years, but said he would consider a fair offer to sell the property. The noise has gotten to be too much.

“It’s not nice not being able to talk outside,” Bailey said.

Charlotte Observer