Hendry County zeroing in on future land uses near Airglades

Hendry County commissioners got a brief overview last week on public informational meetings that county staff conducted March 19-22 at three locations regarding the land use study that’s in progress for areas around the future Airglades International Airport.

What brought up the topic was the county board’s consideration last Tuesday, March 27, of an amendment to its noise ordinance that would exempt activities at the Airglades and LaBelle airports. The commissioners voted to table action until April 24 because they thought it unwise to enact a blanket exemption.

During that discussion, County Administrator Charles Chapman was explaining that under the proposal, “an airport activity would never violate the noise ordinance.”

Hendry County Commissioner Michael Swindle asked Margaret Emblidge, the director of planning and community development who was explaining the measure, “And you have the contours of where those areas are around the airports … that show where that noise level would be? You may want to follow up on the discussion that coincides with the hearings you’ve been having, how that all ties together.”
Those public meetings had been conducted the evenings of March 19, 20 and 22 at three Clewiston venues, giving an overview of the planned expansion of Airglades and providing residents an opportunity to give input. The county’s land use study is being coordinated with the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) under a Competitive Florida Partnership Technical Assistance Grant.

Ms. Emblidge said: “We … were conducting a land-use study for the properties that are around the Airglades Airport, getting ahead of the curve to determine what uses would be appropriate in what locations, looking at the compatibility – primarily looking at the fact that residential, for example, wouldn’t be compatible right next to the airport. But those noise contours that you’re referring to do define the areas where we would be looking at limiting various uses. Those contours specifically are from (the Federal Aviation Administration), and FAA has specific restrictions.”

She explained that the county staff was to send its first report to DEO last Friday, with an assessment of the nearby properties and summaries of the three community outreach meetings, one with the property owners and the others geared toward nearby residents.

Commissioner Karson Turner asked, “Those hearings spoke specifically to noise control, that there’s buffering that’s in place, and now we’re going to reverse that?
“Not at all, sir,” said Ms. Emblidge.
Mr. Chapman jumped in to clarify: “We’ve got the noise ordinance and we’ve got the airport zoning ordinance. Those are two separate and distinct things.” He went on to explain that their agenda item that night was only the noise ordinance.

“The two, somewhat, interrelate to each other,” said Commissioner Swindle. “A good example is that one of the businesses wants to do jet engine testing, and they want to be able to do it and not worry about the folks around there complaining.”

“Chairman Mitchell Wills said, “We’ve got to be careful with this noise ordinance stuff. We need to make sure that we’re staying consistent.” The noise ordinance change was then delayed, but Ms. Emblidge described for the board the next steps in the planning process for properties near the Airglades site, which is along U.S. 27/State Road 80 a few miles west of Clewiston:

“We will be bringing to the board two land-use alternatives for the area around the airport. And then staff will be looking for direction on which way we want to go, as in … types of future land-use map amendments we might want to look at, or creating an overlay for the area so we aren’t necessarily changing the land use or the zonings on the properties that are in that area but we are affording them an overlay.”

She explained that the latter measure would be “somewhat like the west Hendry planning overlay that’s in the northwest area of the county, and somewhat like the sector plans that we have, with the Duda sector plan and the southwest Hendry County sector plan, where you have basically an overlay of uses that (developers) can pursue but they’d still have to come in to us for a zoning process for us to be able to review and ensure that they’re appropriate land uses and there’s appropriate infrastructure for those land uses.”

The Hendry County Board last month approved the eventual sale of the county airport property to Airglades International Airport LLC, a partnership of Florida Cargo Fresh and SugarHill.

Chris Felker can be reached at cfelker@newszap.com

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