April 19, 2008

Motz's foe looks to exploit airport anger

As if a swarm of angry neighbors wasn't enough, Buddy Motz now faces a new critic in the airport dispute: His opponent in the upcoming York County Council election.

Developer Alex Haefele sent 2,700 pieces of mail this week to voters who live near the Rock Hill/York County Airport, chastising Motz and others for failing to keep the public informed of their intentions.

The two Republicans will face off in the June 10 primary, a winner-take-all contest because no Democrat declared for the District 6 seat that includes northwest Rock Hill.

"It has once again been highlighted to all of us why we need to make a change in our council leadership," Haefele wrote in a two-page letter. "And return to a government that indeed represents all of us."

Haefele is looking to tap into frustration over a proposed airport overlay district, which would impose limits on building and require people buying homes to sign forms acknowledging they're in special noise zones. The changes are tied to plans for a longer runway.

"He wants to pick up a few votes playing on the fears of people in the area, and that's unfortunate," Motz responded on Friday.

Motz emphasized that a time-out was called to allow local officials to meet with neighbors and make improvements to the proposal. The wording of the noise disclosure forms, Motz added, is likely to be changed in response to the public's concerns.

Still, Haefele contends spending $15 million on a longer runway makes little sense. It offers "no significant opportunity for expanded use" because the asphalt can only accommodate jets weighing less than 60,000 pounds, he writes.

That last part is true, said Motz, but the airport changes were never about attracting bigger planes. A longer runway will allow small corporate jets to land here in hot weather, the same sizes as current planes.

"What it leads you to believe is we're going to compete with Charlotte and we're gearing up for the expansion based on larger aircraft," said Motz, first elected in 1998. "That's just entirely incorrect."

Not Haefele's first rodeo

Haefele's entry came as a surprise to many, but maybe it shouldn't have. The 55-year-old homebuilder has a long and colorful history of inserting himself into local controversies.

Three years ago, Haefele criticized City Hall for agreeing to accept waste from Tega Cay at the local treatment plant, saying the deal was done on the backs of developers unfairly forced to pay impact fees.

"Rock Hill has found its niche: 'Poop City USA,'" he wrote in a letter to the editor of The Herald.

Haefele's best-known brush with notoriety came in 2000, when he announced plans to build a video poker casino off Dave Lyle Boulevard near downtown. In the midst of an outcry from horrified neighbors and some city officials, Haefele dropped the idea and instead built an office building.

Most recently, Haefele has fought City Hall over plans for a construction and debris landfill approved just south of town. Haefele's significant other, Annie Williams, lives near the site.

"I've spent a lot of times complaining about things the last couple of years," Haefele said. "I thought it was time to roll up my sleeves and do something about it. If you just sit around and complain, it's so much hot air."

When Haefele moved to York County from Charlotte in 1984, Motz wrote his personal insurance policy. The two have known each other ever since.

"When this is over, I hope Buddy and I will still be friends," Haefele said.

Responded Motz: "Friends I don't think run against each other."

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