Office plan at airport blasted by neighbors

If project approved, a helicopter hangar could be built close to their homes, they say.

By: Paul Sisolak
   MONTGOMERY — Neighbors of Princeton Airport, during two hours of Planning Board testimony Monday, condemned plans to build a medical office building at the airport, claiming the project would result in the relocation of a proposed helicopter hangar near their homes.
   The hearing is scheduled to continue in late October.
   Approval of the 25,050-square-foot medical office, proposed for a 7.2-acre site on the eastern end of the airport property, may result in the relocation of a helicopter hangar originally planned there to the western end of the airport, closer to their homes, neighbors said.
   The move, according to residents who waited to speak on the matter during two prior meetings, would increase already excessive air traffic near their homes.
   Tom Hall, an attorney representing the airport, presented a modified arrangement to the board as a compromise and promised the hangar would be used only for fixed-wing aircraft. The airport, he said, would promise to stop helicopter activity and tie-downs at the western end for the next 15 years.
   But the proposal did not satisfy the neighbors. They insisted airport officials are not to be trusted and will increase helicopter traffic anyway, only adding to the airport’s chronic violation of a 1996 settlement agreement with low fly-overs from aircraft taking off from the runway.
   The 1996 agreement between Montgomery and Princeton Airport dictates certain noise-abatement and flight-pattern measures the airport must follow.
   "The airport owners feel they are entitled to expansion of their business without responsibility," said Scott Gilbard, president of Citizens for a Responsible Princeton Airport, a local group made up of neighbors who live in immediate vicinity of the airport.
   An airport layout plan supplementing the settlement agreement called for no development on the airport’s western side, he said.
   "Any development on the southwest portion of the airport will adversely affect homes," he said.
   Resident Karen Nicklaus said her house absorbs the impact of low-flying aircraft every day and added helicopters will compound the problem.
   "They shake the house," she said. "I didn’t move to Montgomery to live like that."
   Some residents — mostly pilots — stood up on behalf of the airport.
   "Any pilot who flies out of Princeton Airport knows the rules," said George Helfrich. "Safety is a big concern."
   Princeton Airport co-owner Naomi Nierenberg said pilots who have not obeyed the rules of the settlement agreement have been asked to fly elsewhere.
   "We do our best to intercede when there is a violation," she said.
   Resident Joseph Weber criticized the application and said the Planning Board should reconsider it.
   "It’s a clever application because it impacts the unspoken application," said Mr. Weber. "You’re being asked to approve the ice cube and ignore the iceberg."
   Believing the matter was not ready to vote on, board members Daniel Huttar and Richard LeTard used similar reasoning when asking the board to re-examine the issue.
   "I fear if we make a decision on this, it may be prejudicial to future airport activity," said Mr. Huttar.
   "This board doesn’t have the information it needs to make a coherent decision," said Mr. LeTard. "It would have been far better if Princeton Airport and the medical group came in together with a unified application."
   Representatives for the medical group agreed to work with airport owners on a modified site-plan application. The board agreed to consider the issue again on Oct. 27.
   The medical office building has been envisioned at previous Planning Board meetings as a two-story, 35-foot high structure. It would have a parking lot with 106 spaces and would have a distance of 345 feet between it and the airport’s runway.