Timeout called on airport plans

Local officials have delayed a controversial plan to restrict development around the Rock Hill/York County Airport, saying they first need to do a better job of communicating with neighbors.

"I think a stand-down is good," York County Council Chairman Buddy Motz said Wednesday. "We need to get in front of the people again with that document, so they can see what it says. We've had a lot of workshops, but I don't think everybody was invited."

The proposed limits are expected to improve the city's chances for convincing the state and federal governments to kick in money for a $14 million runway extension.

But the rules also are stirring fears among neighbors who live just beyond the approach lights. Many worry the impact will mean lower home values and even more jet traffic.

More than 500 property owners are likely to be affected. However, some were not notified in advance of what's going on, decision-makers have since acknowledged.

"We just need to have a better opportunity to hear the neighbors' concerns and complaints," said Tom Roper, chairman of the Rock Hill Planning Commission. "I (also) don't think enough people that are supporting the plan came out to show the advantages of it."

Now, officials are pledging more information sessions to let neighbors weigh in and hear specifics. Dates haven't been finalized. Motz said he expects the new round of meetings to take two to three months.

"Ninety percent of the issues we deal with that people object to are the result of poor communication," Motz said. "Once you explain it, a lot of people don't accept it, but at least they say, 'Well, I understand it better.'"

Plan calls for 'noise zones'

Neighbors are particularly worried about a requirement that people buying or selling homes inside designated "noise zones" must sign forms acknowledging an airport is nearby.

Some aren't as bothered by rules; they just don't want more jets buzzing above their rooftops.

"I could basically throw a rock from my driveway and hit the runway," said Paul Perkins, who lives on Pennington Road. "I've got a little daughter who has to get up and go to school. How is she going to sleep if there's jets coming in the middle of the night?"

A longer runway is being sought because some aircraft can't reach takeoff speeds on the current 5,500-foot strip. That's particularly true in the summer, when air is thinner and planes need more distance to lift off.

Growing to survive

The prospect of US Airways offering passenger flights out of Rock Hill is considered highly unlikely, airport officials say. A more realistic possibility is charter jets that use small planes to take people to the beach in summertime, for example.

"Like other businesses throughout the county, the airport also needs to grow to survive," Motz wrote in an e-mail to a concerned neighbor. "And in order to grow, they need to expand the runway."

A city Planning Commission meeting last week erupted into a spirited opposition rally, to the surprise of some at City Hall who hadn't expected such an uproar. Commissioners voted to hold off on moving forward after impassioned speeches from a half-dozen neighbors.

Now, the county has called a similar timeout, Motz said.