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Meadow Lake Airport plans for the future

On Aug. 14, the El Paso County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a concept plan for a planned unit development for Meadow Lake Airport.The Meadow Lake Airport Association; VEPO, LLC; GRR Partners Inc.; and Santa Fe Springs LLC filed the application jointly.The PUD includes agricultural acreage – east of the current airport – that was purchased by the Meadow Lake Airport Association, said Mark Shook, the association’s vice president.”A few years ago we recognized the encroachment of development around Falcon,” Shook said.”If we didn’t do something, this airport was going to be swallowed up. It would be a tiny island with just basic operations and no ability to serve any other kind of aircraft. We would be so limited by our size, there would be a need for a third airport in El Paso County.”The PUD consists of 1,002 acres, with 35 acres for an aviation terminal, 112 acres of aviation-related light industrial use, 196 acres of aviation-related commercial use, 302 acres for the airfield, 28 acres of general commercial use, 162 acres of general industrial use, 71 acres of right-of-way and 95 acres of open space, landscape buffers and drainage.”We want aviation-compatible businesses that bring revenue to the airport and keep us viable so we can meet our operating expenses without raising the taxes of the property owners there or coming for more handouts,” Shook said.The “handouts” Shook referred to include the $3 million loan the privately owned airport obtained from the Colorado Aeronautics Board several years ago. When the association took the loan, it reorganized as a nonprofit corporation, operating as a private airport and open to the public, Shook said.The association used the loan money to purchase land. The Federal Aviation Administration has been awarding grants to the association to help pay off the loan, Shook said.Meadow Lake Airport is designated as a reliever airport for the Colorado Springs airport, which means the airport relieves general aviation traffic – not commercial jets, he saidThere is currently no tower at the Meadow Lake Airport, and landings and takeoffs are made under visual flight rules.Shook said one of the association’s goals is to qualify for instrument landings and takeoffs. To do that, they need to realign and lengthen the existing runway, which will happen in about seven years.Being instrument-capable will make the airport safe to operate during inclement weather, which is key to supporting business aircraft, he said.”I’m not talking about lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous big jets. I’m talking all-weather, single and twin-engine aircraft used by business and very light six to 10 passenger jets used a lot by small businesses. They’ve got to be able to use their planes when their executives need to travel. If they’re limited by weather, they’re just going to go to the Colorado Springs airport.”We have a lot of advantages. With its short taxiway, pilots can take off from Meadow Lake Airport in five to 10 minutes, compared to 20 to 30 minutes from the Colorado Springs airport, which has a 1.5 mile taxiway.When Stapleton Road connects Briargate Parkway to Curtis Road, Meadow Lake Airport will be located where three major four-lane roads will intersect, allowing executives from the Briargate area easy access to the airport. “It will be a zip,” Shook said.A few years after the runway is realigned and the airport is rated for instrument landings and takeoffs, “you’ll see a change in the nature of who uses Meadow Lake Airport,” he added. “The plan is designed to protect the sport aviation business we have now and also support the small business segment that uses aviation.”According to the PUD application, the development services department notified 54 nearby property owners and received 10 responses in favor of the development – 14 against and one who had no opinion.Connie Benavidez, who has lived on Falcon Highway since 1989, testified against the plan.”The planes go directly over my house at less than 1,000 feet,” Benavidez said. “If the runway is extended south, that means they will be going even lower over my house. We fear for our house being hit.”Commissioner Amy Lathen asked if lengthening the current runway was more of a safety issue than a noise issue because the planes are noisy whether at 500 feet or 1,000 feet. Benavidez agreed it is a safety issue to her.Steve Marshall, project consultant, representing Airport Development Group, said airplanes can be required to turn east or west before going over a house, as long as safe flight operations are maintained.Lathen also asked if industrial uses will affect nearby property values.County planning manager Elaine Kleckner said the applicant would have to submit a PUD development plan that would list proposed industrial uses. The BOCC would approve or deny specific uses at that time.Mike Hrebenar, operations director of the county’s development services department, described the plan as futuristic and long range.In a separate interview, Richard Martin, Meadow Lake Airport Association board member, said the Air Force need for a new runway at the Pueblo airport may make it more difficult to get the grants needed to fund the realignment of Meadow Lake’s runway.With the economy down, who wants to invest in infrastructure, Martin said.

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