Building a Residential Airpark

Recently we’ve had several inquiries from individuals and small groups interested in establishing residential airparks. Interestingly enough, the contacts have come from several regions of the country indicating to us that the interest continues to grow in this lifestyle. Rather than continue responding individually, we decided to provide some general information and offer some suggestions […]

Recently we’ve had several inquiries from individuals and small groups interested in establishing residential airparks. Interestingly enough, the contacts have come from several regions of the country indicating to us that the interest continues to grow in this lifestyle.

Rather than continue responding individually, we decided to provide some general information and offer some suggestions to make life easier for anyone interested in developing or improving a residential airpark.

Generally speaking, the more distance from an airport with an operating control tower, the less pressure or interest there is from the FAA. That’s not to say, however, that this federal agency isn’t at all interested. It’s the level of interest that makes the difference.

When establishing an airpark the greatest area of interest is not going to come from the FAA; local zoning authorities and building folks probably will generate it. These are the ones you need to make sure they understand what you are attempting to develop and the reasons they should be supportive.

Here are some of the points you should be able to make:

  • The density of a residential airpark is almost always very low. You aren’t going to put a bunch of homes on small lots.
  • Homes that are built will probably be larger than average and more expensive. This means the resulting taxes to the local entity will be greater.
  • Because the majority of people living on residential airparks are middle aged, they usually don’t have children at home or at the most those kids are in high school and soon will be gone to college or on their own. This means little demand on schools in the area.
  • Residential airparks provide open space in the form of the runway and taxiway and are quiet areas. The number of airplane operations at residential airparks is quite low. These are people who generally use their airplane to go somewhere, not just fly around the local area doing touch and go’s, etc.

These are important points to make with community leaders as well as planning and zoning officials. They are the ones who are going to approve or reject your plan or make it easier or harder to complete.

It is usually better to obtain the services of professionals in developing your airpark layout and making your proposal to the required governmental agencies. These professionals – lawyer, CPA, land planner, developer, etc – can do it without the personal concerns that the property owners have and are thus less likely to get into an unpleasant situation with officials whose support you need.

There are a number of documents and publications out there to help you in developing and designing a safe airpark. These range from FAA documents that go from building another Chicago O’Hare to state publications to AOPA documents.

In no particular order, here are some of the ones we’ve collected:

  • FAA AC 150/5370-10A from Feb 17, 1989 – Standards for Specifying Construction of Airports.
  • Illinois DOT – Division of Aeronautics, February, 1992 – Residential Airports: Guidelines for Development.
  • AOPA August 1999 – Establishing an Airport: The Basics
  • Kaplan Kirsch & Rockwell LLP and Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc. June 2004 – Guide to Airport Noise Rules and Use Restrictions
  • FAA Form 7480-1 (1-93) – Notice of Landing Area Proposal
  • FAA AC 70-2E Nov. 29, 1995 – Airspace Utilization Considerations in the Proposed Construction, Alteration, Activation and Deactivation of Airports.
  • FAA FAR Part 157, October 1993 –Notice of Construction, Alteration, Activation and Deactivation of Airports
  • FAA AC 150/5190-4A, Dec. 14, 1987 – A Model Zoning Ordinance to Limit Height of Objects Around Airports
  • FAA AC 150/5050-4, Sep. 26, 1975 – Citizen Participation in Airport Planning
  • FAA AC 150/5050-5, Nov. 28, 1975 – The Continuous Airport System Planning Process
  • FAA AC 150/5050-7, June 23, 1987 – Establishment of Airport Action Groups
  • FAA AC 150-5070-6A, June 1985 – Airport Master Plans
  • FAA AC 150-5300-13, Sep 29, 1989 – Airport Design

Many of these items are from 20 years ago but they still have some information that is relevant to current situations and also provide background education. Of course, many of the documents do not apply directly to residential airparks but they still provide good information.

In addition to the information above, we would encourage would be airpark developers to read through the covenants, conditions and restrictions that we’ve collected. Also, many of the airparks to which we have established links publish their own CC&Rs on those websites. A considerable amount of valuable information is available in these documents.

13 comments

  1. Tom Muller

    Very helpful. You just gave me my winter reading list.

  2. avid E. McKenzie

    pproval” from the FAA. They would not approve anything on property in an area zoned, “Agricultural Residential” that has a runway on it without approval from the FAA.

    The FAA DOES NOT perform appraisals on facilities that are privately owned and privately used according to the local FAA, Airports District Office.

    So, here I am again having to hire an attorney to deal with the ignorance and prejudice of local, “baby bureaurats”.

    I don’t know whether I enjoy flying so much that I’ll do alsmost anything to continue it or perhaps I’m simply insane. I hope all of you enjoy establishing residential airparks. I’m finding it to be a bitch, at best.

    Sincerely,
    Dave McKenzie

  3. Casey Melancon

    I have been working on the development of an airpark in Louisiana for about 20 months now. The best advice I can give to a potential develper is to get with your State Department of Transportation and Development FIRST. It is very likely that their requirements are different than what is advised in any FAA Advisory Circular. The FAA is mainly concerned with the location, runway orientation, and type of airport(private, public,VFR, IFR,etc), while the State is responsible for the approving the design of the airport. I’ve seen several airparks in other states that had narrow runways with homes being built extremely close to the runway. The FAA advises to have a 250 foot wide Obstruction free zone centered on the runway. However, Louisiana requires an additional 3 to 1 slope from the sides of the obstruction free zone which would equate to atleat least 45 feet of additional width on each side. So before you look for property or start laying out designs, get with your state agency. It will save you time.

  4. Bruce Johnson

    We would like to locate a sampling of CC&R’s which you have collected and those available from other airparks?

    Bruce Johnson

  5. I developed a beautiful airport and have gone through two years of hell due to one airline pilot who routinely breaks CC&Rs safety rules, and non-flying land owners who don’t care. Because of this, and because there are no options for enforcement (except law suit), I had to close the airport.

    Even though the airport is “public use,” the FAA says they govern only airspace (not ground violations) and that they will only take action *after* an accident. The TSA is concerned, but so far has taken no action. The county sheriff says it’s a civil matter and will do nothing, even though the airport is in my name.

    In other words, in my experience, there is no way to prevent vandalism, theft, runway incursions, etc. at a privately-owned public use airport (except law suit). Contrary to what most of us have been taught, the situation for restricted airports is even worse. 70% of the pilots do not call in advance for permission, and some land even if the runway is X’d. The FAA says they are entitled to do so, and therefore will do nothing. All this, of course, places you at risk with no way to control what happens on the airport.

    So, if you are creating an airpark, my advice is to keep ownership of the runway 100% in your name (not shared ownership), or for liability protection, transfer it to a corporation (over which you have a good deal of control). Go into the project with the realization that you can expect no help from any government agency if you have a trouble-maker — and most airparks have at least one. Also, from experience, there is no guarantee that hiring an expert (lawyer) will make you immune to problems — but their advise may help reduce some risk.

    Good luck!

  6. mark parmley

    These comments are scaring me to death. I’m in the process of starting an 11 lot fly-in community and plan on having the lot owners “own” the strip as community property. It sounded like the right thing to do, with CCRs to outline flying rules and dues. I figured if the people owned the strip they would have a vested interest in making it work. The CCRs allow for denial of use if a violator of the rules continues to do so. Is this enforcable? I would like all to be happy with what they have, but won’t tolerate law breakers or people who are unsafe around my home. Any ideas or comments?

  7. Mark …

    Responding to your comment on the LWYP web site, you should be scared.

    My airpark, Lava Hot Springs Airpark (www.alta-research.com/airpark), has 12 residential lots at this time. I founded it with *exactly* the same positive attitude that you expressed. I was expecting that the airstrip might eventually be co-owned (after full development), and that well-written CC&Rs would provide protection.

    I was wrong.

    All it takes is one savvy trouble-maker to ruin an airport manager’s or developer’s life for several years. And, that is what is happening here.

    Some quick notes:

    1. Joint ownership is a bad concept, because all it takes is one of the owners to refuse to cooperate, and a single owner can therefore block progress desired by all other owners. For example, one owner could block the airport from being transferred to a municipality, which has many advantages. Even worse, if you have a single trouble-maker who is doing vandalism, runway incursions, etc., he can claim to be an owner, and the sheriff will have an excuse to do nothing — the sheriff will say it is a civil matter. That’s what happened here, and the smooth-talking trouble-maker talked the sheriff’s department into believing he was an airport owner, even though he was not.

    2. Better than joint ownership is ownership by a corporation, possibly the Association entity, if it has been incorporated. Direct owners have no liability protection. Take care when designing the voting and control mechanism.

    3. Good CC&Rs are an *excellent* idea, but if you have a serious trouble-maker (as at my Airpark), he will keep violating and keep using the airport even though the CC&Rs ban him from doing so. I had to close the airport on account of him. In my case, the trouble-maker borrowed an airplane for several months, just so he could use it for harassment purposes at the closed airport after he had been banned from doing so. The FAA will do nothing about an airplane landing at a closed airport, or anywhere for that matter.

    4. If you have a stubborn trouble-maker, the only non-violent ways to enforce the CC&Rs (that I am aware of) are law suit and fines with the ability to lien the violator’s property. Unfortunately, our CC&Rs do not have fines for violators, only loss of privileges to use the runway. That leaves law suit, for me. So far, I have spent about $30,000, and it will probably reach $100,000 before it is over. Further, I cannot realistically sell lots while the mess is in progress.

    5. Make sure you have legal language in your CC&Rs that will require the landowners to pay for legal expenses, for the enforcement of CC&Rs. Also, have a good indemnification paragraph.

    6. One trouble-maker attempting to take over an airpark is not uncommon. As hard as you may try to be a “good guy” and fair in every way, you are still the developer. It is not as hard as you might think for a trouble-maker to breed discontent. In my case, the trouble-maker worked three absentee non-flying land owners by phone into following him.

    7. Retain voting control as long as you can. Remember, as developer, you are the only person who has the *whole* project as your interest. Any airpark manager will tell you that non-flying residents are poison, especially if they can gain control.

    Before all this, I was a naive engineer who loved flying. In the beginning I gave all landowners lots of slack, and helped them whenever I could. Apparently, they saw it as weakness to be taken advantage of. Now, I have a difficult time trusting anybody, and I now run a tight ship. My advice is to run a tight ship from the beginning, follow the CC&Rs to the letter, and be consistent in your treatment of all landowners. No favors, because the benefactor or someone else will use such favors against you! And, be careful what you say in emails because emails (even personal emails!) have a way of showing up in court, and sloppy use of language can and will be used against you. For example, don’t ever say, “Come visit — my home is your home” because they may claim that you gave them part ownership in your house. [extreme example]

    Much of the above was learned by hard knocks. However, I have talked at length with over two dozen other airparks, and they all have had similar experiences.

    Take care.

    … Reed

  8. Rudy Visaya

    Wow , what an eye openner! I don’t think Ill got the route of a community Airpark , but whats the situation with buying some acreage and putting a stip down for your own use and for fellow pilots to land there who you know? Ive been looking into buying something up here in Northern Ca. I also fly Gliders and it could just be a grassy field not a paved one. But Iam really uneducated in this endeavor. Any comments I would appreciate.

    Thankyou very much

  9. Neat blog, some interesting details. I believe 8 of days ago, I have found a similar post. Does anyone know how to track future posts?

  10. Jennell Cardona

    Helpful blog post . I was fascinated by the info . Does anyone know if my company could possibly find a sample FAA 7480-1 version to fill in ?

  11. Ben Sclair

    I realize this isn’t a completed sample but is this link will get you to the PDF on the FAA website.

  12. Maira Salter

    Greetings Jennell Cardona. my assistant obtained a sample FAA 7480-1 copy with this link http://goo.gl/AwpLcu

  13. Heidi Paulsen

    Thank you for this page, had a question about financing. I imagine people have to get real creative with finding the funds to do this. Selling lots to build houses would provide some start up capital, but what if we wanted to keep cabins and have more of a fly in resort?
    Love to hear ideas,
    Thanks,
    Heidi

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