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Growing Pains

Falcon’s rapid growth has been hypersonic, as swift as a fast-moving train, much like the trains that engineered the development of the eastern prairie town a long time ago. After the automobile was introduced, Falcon slipped into obscurity, with the exception of hearty ranchers and farmers and independent-types who sought Falcon as a respite from the streetscapes and bright lights Fast forward to 2005, and the streetscapes and bright lights are engineering a new community. Falcon has expeditiously become a boomtown once again. Dense neighborhoods have cropped up and a swarm of businesses, from privately owned to franchises to corporate giants like Walgreen’s, have blended in the heart of the commercial district, which used to be a horse pasture.The change has affected the town with the same insecurity and klutz akin to adolescence. Some are faring better than others.Falcon’s growing pains are evidenced by a contingent of people who are directed toward progress and a fraternity of the opposite who want to remain, as one resident described, “big fish in a small pond.” The pond is overflowing with opinions and ideas, some of which were adamantly expressed at a Feb. 10 incorporation meeting.Art Van Sant, a commercial landlord and property owner, and his cohort, Jean Woolsey, a local business owner, are heading up a Falcon incorporation movement. More than 70 people showed up at the February meeting to find out the details. (More on incorporation on page 22.)Van Sant and Woolsey were prepared. They have outlined incorporation boundaries, talked to neighboring communities like Black Forest and Peyton and solicited advice from city leaders in other Colorado incorporated areas. The two are now rallying volunteers for the 13 committees that they hope will design an incorporation plan. If it all comes together, Falcon voters will say yes or no to a new city in November.Van Sant told the crowd the reason for the movement is about gaining control of the area. “We don’t have enough of a voice,” he said. Bob Null, who sits on the county’s planning commission and ran against Douglas Bruce last fall as a write-in candidate for county commissioner, told attendees that he believes they do have a voice. “We have 48,000 lots approved that could be built on in this area, and I’d love to see this group show up for one of our planning meetings,” Null said. The development of the area isn’t “automatic,” he said. Some disagreed.The arguments over control issues are widespread, crossing the plains and rattling barn doors as fiercely as the frequent winds.Take Meadow Lake Airport, for example, which sits about a mile east of Falcon’s town center. Growing pains were piercing the bellies of a few Meadow Lake homeowners and association members at a special Feb. 3 meeting that was prompted by a petition to pass a resolution giving association members the final say in the approval of a sale or trade of association-owned land surrounding the airport. The petition process was initiated when a majority of the association board members approved a trade of 25 acres of airport property for five acres of privately owned property.The trade was a directive from the Federal Aviation Administration, said Richard Martin, a board member of the Meadow Lake Airport Association. “It was needed for a clear zone,” Martin said. The FAA is involved because about 18 months ago the Colorado Department of Transportation loaned the airport association $3.5 million to purchase 500 nearby acres needed for airport expansion efforts. The FAA is expected to pay back the CDOT loan through grants.If CDOT had not stepped in, the airport was in “jeopardy of going under,” said Lee Wolford, a former Air Force fighter pilot and the newest member of the association board. He said housing developments were “encroaching on the area” and the airport was either going to die or survive and grow. With growth, comes change.”The airport is changing, and whether that is for the best is up for grabs in many people’s eyes,” Wolford said. “It started as a private airport on a farmer’s property. It has developed from there and grown and grown. And once you get in bed with an 800-pound gorilla, things change.”The gorilla is the FAA and its state counterpart, the CDOT Division of Aeronautics. Travis Vallin is the aeronautics division director, whom Martin said was instrumental in helping the association secure the $3.5 million loan. “Travis stuck his neck out for us,” Martin said.”Meadow Lake is one of the most active airports in the state,” Vallin said. Because of growth in Colorado and the Springs specifically, he said CDOT wanted to concentrate on developing Meadow Lake. “CDOT’s relationship to the FAA is direct,” he said. “We are an arm of the FAA. They invest in airports to enhance the national system, and we work very closely with them.”The two agencies are working together to “provide a runway configuration that would allow for an instrument approach,” Vallin said. Expansion plans include a main runway extension, from 6,000 feet to 8,300 feet, and a new 3,500-foot crosswind runway. “The natural progression of an airport is to provide greater capacity,” he said.Progress also includes the development of a business park within the airport boundaries. Vallin said the airport needs to augment federal and state funds by generating its own revenue.Gene and Jamie Johnston are helping to generate the revenue. Johnston was involved in the five and 25-acre trade that raised the ire of some association members. He is currently negotiating the sale of the five-acre property with the private owner, which includes an agreement to move the hangar that is located on the property. Johnston will then trade the five acres to the airport association for 25 acres located near his Meadow Lake home. Johnston and his wife, both engineers, already own two buildings on two acres of land at the airport. They lease a 6,500-square-foot building to a sheet metal company and another 10,000-square-foot building houses EW Systems, the largest employer at Meadow Lake Airport.The Johnstons own EW Systems and employ eight engineers, who design and provide hardware and software support for a pilot training system. The system is called the Threat Reaction Analysis Indicator System, an electronic data collection device, equal to the size of a tractor-trailer, which collects electronic signals from military aircraft jamming pods. He said 20 of the systems are used across the globe at military training ranges. The systems or “vans” are routinely shipped to EW Systems for hardware and software upgrades and the installation of server databases.EW Systems also maintains a database that projects upgrades and modifications for military aircraft. After the Sept. 11 attacks, Johnston said the government requested that all the systems be moved inside a facility for security purposes. Landing at Meadow Lake Airport was a plus for EW Systems and a benefit to the airport. Further complementing the airport business arena is Johnston’s plan for the 25 acres.He will move his EW Systems to the 25 acres and add a light industrial business park. “We will stay with the aviation theme on the exterior of the building, but businesses that want to join us don’t have to be aviation oriented,” Johnston said. “Light and clean manufacturing, a warehouse or catalogue-sales companies are the types of businesses we’ll look for.”EW Systems is one of 30 businesses located at the airport, Martin said. The businesses include the numerous hangars leased to airplane enthusiasts.Martin’s wife, Sandy, is the president of the Experimental Aircraft Association and the president of Meadow Lake Estates, the homeowners association. She said the absence of an airport master plan prior to the FAA involvement contributed to the area’s growing pains. “There was no framework; we had no model to work with,” she said.Despite the lack of a growth plan, the little airport on the prairie has done okay for itself. Richard Martin said association dues bring in about $56,000 per year. The goal has always been about protecting the airport, and now that state and federal aviation agencies have joined in the mission, Martin said the airport will “become a tremendous economic engine for this county.””Meadow Lake is in a perfect spot to fit in with the whole scheme (a scheme that Vallin said includes a spurt in growth for Schriever Air Force Base),” Wolford said. “This airport could have gone away in two years. Travis put his career on the line to keep it afloat, and we should be eternally grateful to him. … This has to be a win-win for everyone. It’s a brilliant flash of the obvious.”The obvious is continued growth. It’s easier for some than others. Perhaps Joyce Sanders, a Meadow Lake homeowner, echoed the sentiments for all of Falcon. “It’s hard for those who wanted to live in a rural area. It’s hard for them to all of a sudden be in the middle of this growth.”

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