Neighbors' opinions about plans for airport requested

Neighbors worried about more jet traffic at the Rock Hill-York County Airport can sound off tonight to a panel probing how the site should evolve.

A citizens advisory group comprised of local business owners, pilots and neighborhood activists will make recommendations on the airport's future after a series of fact-finding sessions set to end this month.

Tonight, the panel will invite neighbors to weigh in, said facilitator Ted Matthews. Topics include a possible runway extension, the airport's economic impact and its effects on nearby home values.

"I just hope the community will become more knowledgeable of the airport and its role," said panel chairwoman Kathy Bigham, co-owner of Thursday's Too restaurant. "There are people on this committee -- this was the first time they've ever been to the airport. I hope some of the things we've learned will become clearer to the people."

Homeowner Scott Ball, a leading critic of recent airport changes, sent an e-mail urging neighbors to attend the meeting.

Located since 1959 off Celanese Road on the northwest side of Rock Hill, the airport landed at the center of controversy when officials proposed tighter zoning rules on nearby land.

The now-approved rules aim to restrict development close to the runway, where local officials are pursuing a 1,000-foot extension in hopes of luring more corporate jet traffic.

Federal dollars are more readily available to airports where land restrictions have been imposed.

Hoping to counteract a barrage of criticism, Rock Hill and York County leaders created the panel to promote the facility and, they hope, provide an objective look at its value.