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Provo airport discord centers on farm

Residents say proposed buffer zone too large

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PROVO — Most west Provo residents realize their once-sleepy agricultural area is growing, and they acknowledge the oncoming residential and commercial development won't likely stop soon.

But what really angers longtime farming families near the Provo Municipal Airport is the fact that a proposed master plan currently under consideration advocates placing one of Provo's most venerable farms in an airport buffer zone that would restrict future use. The Hinckley family farm, just east of the airport, could one day become a short- and long-term parking lot for air travelers.

Several Provo residents at a public hearing Tuesday night complained that Provo was going too far when it considered taking the farm once cultivated by the city's former mayor, George Marion Hinckley, who died July 2. But the farm predates even him; it was started by George M. Hinckley's father, Edwin S. Hinckley, a century ago.

"It's about the livelihood and personality of Provo," said Randy Hinckley, a grandson of George M. Hinckley. "My advice to the (City Council) is not to accept this master plan."

But staff members in the administration of Mayor Lewis K. Billings say a land-use protection area is necessary to prohibit residential development or tall buildings too close to Provo's runway.

The protection area is a requirement of the Federal Aviation Administration, which has learned by experience that allowing homes close to airports eventually causes disputes over noise and safety, said Provo airport manager Steve Gleason.

If the Provo airport grows to eventually include regular commercial and cargo flights, part of the Hinckley farm might be used for a parking lot. The airport master plan projects that probably wouldn't happen for at least a decade or so.

Billings had directed staff members prior to Tuesday's hearing on the plan to prepare a 90-minute presentation in an effort to attempt to head off residents' complaints about noise, traffic problems and other perceived ills of an expanded airport. But the City Council received an hour's worth of comment, mostly complaints, anyway.

The council could vote to approve or disapprove the master plan at a July 18 meeting.

"I really believe we need another airport, but I don't think it's out there that we need to put it," said Councilman Dennis Poulsen. "I think we need to work on keeping this airport small." But advocates of the master plan say that's not likely to happen. The growth will come whether or not Provo is ready, they say.

"Some think the question is, do we want to have an airport or do we not want to have an airport?" Billings said. "I would suggest the question is, do we want a management plan that does A, B and C, or do we want a management plan that does A, B and D?"

Jim Sirhall, a consultant with Airport Development Group, which crafted the plan, said the recommendations in the proposal would result in better use of property, improved safety and convenience for air travelers and those who ship packages via aircraft.

City Engineer Nick Jones said proposals for increased activity at the airport would result in 5,000 vehicle trips per day. By contrast, he said, were the airport property to be zoned for residential development, vehicle trips per day would total about 65,000.

Ryan R. Hales, a traffic engineer hired by the city to conduct a study of the effects of airport expansion on roads, said airport plans won't change the roads that must be improved in the next 20 years. What a larger airport would do, he said, is require that some of the improvements be made more quickly than they otherwise would be.

For example, he said, Center Street must be widened just west of I-15, and improved semaphores and turn lanes must be added to portions of Center Street leading to the airport. Those changes will be required anywhere from two to four years sooner if the airport grows as projected, he said.

Neighborhood chairwoman Anita Reid said residents near the airport realize growth is coming. But residents felt they were left out of the airport planning process. If they had been included, many of their concerns already would have been addressed, she said.

"We feel like the proposed plan is a leap off the deep end and allows more expansion than anyone wants to talk about at this time," Reid said. "We may live south of the tracks and west of the freeway, but there is intelligent life down there. We would like to be consulted rather than told."

Gleason attempted to persuade residents that the master plan would reduce noise because the addition of another runway will allow most air traffic to circle over Utah Lake rather than over homes. But farmers like Tom Halladay said the prospect of a large airport already has made their property values decline.

Billings promised to show residents the results of an appraiser's study of airport effects on land values at next week's meeting.

E-mail: carter@desnews.com