CLEARWATER — Residents north of Clearwater Airpark are rebelling against noise levels created by helicopters and other private aircraft that make repeated approaches to the runway.
Frank Scalzo and several other residents of Sunset Lake Manor neighborhood took their complaints to the Feb. 5 Airpark Advisory Board meeting.
According to Scalzo, the number of flights has increased since he bought his house 23 years ago. He blames helicopters from the airpark’s flight school.
Tampa Bay Aviation is the flight school that uses Robinson R-22 and R-44 helicopters as well as fixed-wing aircraft to train pilots at the airpark. Federal Aviation Administration pilot training requires students to practice approaches, taxiing, and other skills with an instructor.
“Sometimes it’s so loud … it will shake things in our house when they do training, when they go over the house,” Scalzo told the Beacon. “They keep looping and going around and around.”
Scalzo said he understands when people tell him it was he who bought the house in the approach to the airport.
“The flight school wasn’t there then, and now it is constant traffic,” he told the Beacon. “We realize the flight school has to be there, but can’t they do it during certain hours and give the rest of the day to us?”
Edward Chesney, the city’s marine and aviation director, oversees the airpark and various city-operated marinas. Noise levels and community relations is the responsibility of David King Sr., who Chesney said has a contract with the city to serve as the airpark’s fixed base operator (FBO). As such, King provides aeronautical services such as fueling, hangar and tie-down leases, and manages contracts for companies that provide aircraft maintenance, flight instruction, and similar services.
King said any questions about the airpark should be referred to Chesney and the city.
“Operating a viable flight school is one of the lessee’s obligations in the lease,” Chesney said. “The city is also sensitive to citizens. Right now, there are no flight school limitations set by the city outside of the normal airpark hours of operations.”
After Scalzo complained at the board meeting, airpark personnel suggested residents come to the airpark and meet the staff. Scalzo countered that he’d like airpark personnel come to the neighborhood to measure the noise levels. Chesney said some neighbors had visited the airpark.
“The FBO has been successful with the neighborhoods when those that have complained actually visited the airpark to learn more about the operations,” he said. “Such was the case last week when neighbors were invited and came in.”
Scalzo also described the noise problem to the City Council the day after the Airpark board meeting.
“The neighborhood noise levels have got to the point where it is sometimes unbearable,” he told the council. “The helicopters are so loud that my wife has to wear earplugs.”
He suggested the next time the city considers expanding the airpark, the council listen to concerns of local residents.
City frees land for Jolley Trolley
The City Council on Feb. 6 declared surplus a 2.5-acre site that Jolley Trolley plans to use as a two-bay maintenance shop and as a storage lot for up to six trolleys, said Brian Aungst Jr., the lawyer representing Jolley Trolley. The council also approved a lease agreement with the trolley company.
Spring Branch neighborhood residents worried in a letter to the council that the project will clog roads with large trolleys and create an environmental hazard near the completed Stevenson Creek Estuary Restoration Project.
Aungst argued that the city and Jolley Trolley have performed extensive due diligence on the property at 1730 Overbrook Ave. He also promised that the company would make “environmental improvement to what has been there since 2004.”
The trolley project is part of a larger 4.1-acre site the city purchased in November 2002 for $750,000. It’s on the southwest corner of the intersection of Overbrook Avenue and Betty Lane.
The lease between Jolley Trolley Transportation of Clearwater Inc. and the City of Clearwater is for 25 years with an option to renew the lease every five years. There are many steps between the declaration of the site as surplus and construction of the new trolley maintenance and storage site.
“You aren’t approving the site plan or the actual building,” Aungst told the council. “This is the first step in a long process. We are at least two years away from this site being operational.”
Don’t look for the Spring Branch residents to remain silent as the project moves forward.
“This is a primarily residential neighborhood,” a letter from the neighborhood association to the council states. “Housing the operation center for a transit company is an inappropriate and seemingly incompatible use for the surrounding area, which consists of a majority of single-family homes and duplexes.”
Flanery reappointed to Development Board
The City Council reappointed Clearwater Development Board member D. Michael Flanery to the board after a handful of residents took to the podium to argue for his reappointment.
Reappointments to the board for a second, four-year term is usually automatic, but councilmember David Allbritton put architect Bill Fisher’s name up for Flanery’s seat on the board. His reason: Flanery colored outside the lines.
“I don’t want to say anything bad about anybody,” Allbritton said as he defended his decision to put Fisher up for the CDB seat. “But I did serve with Mr. Flanery on the CDB, and what I noticed was there were a couple of members of the CDB who wanted to change our code. They weren’t guided by our code, they thought it would be better to change the code. That was something I didn’t agree with. That’s why I asked Bill Fisher. I always go for the best person on the job.”
Mayor George N. Cretekos defended Flanery.
“He has been a good board member,” Cretekos said. “He doesn’t agree with the downtown attorneys and maybe he doesn’t agree with some of the consultants that people hire to come before the CDB, but he brings a different perspective. Our position has been, in the past, to allow him to serve a second term. We may not agree with him, but that’s no means why we ought to get rid of him.”
A handful of residents took to the podium to defend what they see as Flanery’s open-mindedness and experience as an environmental engineer.
After hearing residents call for Flanery’s reappointment, Allbritton changed his mind. Though he noted Fisher was also highly qualified, he said, “You guys have all, with your comments, changed my mind,” he said after residents spoke. “I am going to vote to retain him.”
Flanery has publicly expressed sentiment with residents over developers in the past.
After the June CDB hearing on whether to provide a variance to a condominium project in the Edgewater Drive neighborhood — which Flanery opposed — he told the Beacon:
“Development companies already operate within the connections of lawyers, experts, and planning people who have done this process before. It’s really hard for a small group like the Edgewater homeowners’ association to prepare in the same way.”
His term expires Feb. 28, 2024.