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Tuesday, Nov 28, 2023

Van Nuys Airport Operators Sing the Blues

Van Nuys Airport Operators Sing the Blues Some Wait 12 Years For OK to Expand By JACQUELINE FOX Staff Reporter Mark Sullivan, owner of Skytrails Aviation at the Van Nuys Airport, has a small fleet of new jets sitting on the tarmac outside his 17-year-old company. The planes butt nose to nose in precariously close quarters, packed in tightly because he doesn’t have enough hangar space for them all. Not that there isn’t room for him to build more hangars, or that he doesn’t have the money to pay for them. In fact, Sullivan is one of six longtime leaseholders at VNA who’ve submitted proposals to develop a long-vacant 5.8-acre parcel, once leased by the late Walt Disney, for expansion purposes. But a 12-year stalemate over a master plan for land use at the VNA and residents’ demands for noise and safety controls, operators and others say, keep their projects grounded. As a result, the airport, which has operated in the red for several years, its tenants and the city of Los Angeles are losing out on millions of dollars in new revenue and taxes. Meanwhile, many operators believe their landlord, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA), is pushing ahead with its own developments, namely a planned transfer of a maintenance yard to a vacant 70-acre parcel once used by the Air National Guard and a new $34 million facility for Flyaways, a passenger transfer system to LAX. “My business is growing like crazy right now,” Sullivan said. “I’ve got a quarter of a billion dollars of aircraft on my property that I can’t even get hangars for. And (the owners) could leave and go someplace else like Burbank or Camarillo. Is that business-friendly, or business-unfriendly?” The RETLAW (Walter spelled backward) property is actually one of three available parcels at the airport Sullivan and other aviators would like to develop. Although LAWA officials say a blueprint for a master plan is nearly complete, an approved version probably won’t surface before year’s end, and they aren’t likely to award any development bids before that. In addition, the city planning commission recently adopted an Interim Control Ordinance (ICO) requiring all development plans be pre-approved by the Van Nuys Citizens Advisory Council (CAC), a group of homeowners and local business owners concerned mostly about tracking development and noise issues at VNA. The city says the ordinance is intended to spur LAWA to move quickly on a master plan. Others call it a stalling tactic aimed at keeping development at bay for as long as possible, adding that LAWA’s own projects have, in the past, been exempt from earlier ICO’s and likely will be this time around. The fact that operators must have their plans reviewed by the CAC tells them the city is giving the group an ad-hoc approval role in development at the airport. From the CAC’s perspective, it gives the public more say in what happens next. “Our position, and that of all the business owners at Van Nuys, is that, for all the airport does and can do for the Valley economy not to mention the city proper it’s criminal to neglect it and thwart this development,” said Robert Rodine, chairman of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association aviation committee. While only one bidder will get the RETLAW project, the other five plan to develop at other locations at the airport. Rodine said that together they could eventually develop roughly 40 acres for new business and pump an estimated $75 million into the local economy during the construction phase. Post-construction revenues could be as high as $530 million a year for the Valley, he said. Airport spokesman Richard French said interviews with the six leaseholders are being scheduled. He downplayed the notion that LAWA was trying to thwart aviation development, saying that right now the agency’s primary focus has been on post-9/11 security mandates. “What people might not realize is that we are still in recovery and what affects LAX also affects us,” said French. “So it’s not that we aren’t moving on it, we’re just moving more slowly.” Rodine said, “It’s just phenomenal to think that all this potential economic power is lying dormant while LAWA and city officials drag their feet.” The airport’s losses for fiscal year 2001 ending June 30 were $572,000, but have consistently topped $4 million in recent years. Post-Sept. 11 expenditures are likely to produce even steeper losses in the 2002 fiscal year. French said the ICO is intended to streamline the process for getting a master plan in place. “We view the ICO as a way to facilitate business because we think it gives us guidelines to go by while LAWA is drafting a final plan,” said French. “It’s intended to keep things moving along.” Not every operator at VNA wants to develop vacant land. Some just want to bring their older buildings up to date. But they too say they have been hampered by LAWA and the city’s refusal to negotiate without an approved master plan in place. “They (LAWA) push for anything it wants to work on, but tenants who pay rent here can’t get anything done,” said Harold Lee, owner of Million Air. “It would just be nice if our landlord supported us.” Lee wants to build a new $15 million, 300,000-square-foot office and hangar complex. Planning Commissioner Bob Scott, who voted against the recent ICO and previous exemptions for LAWA, said the ordinances are a transparent effort by the city to stall development. “ICO’s are a death knell for the area because of the stigmatizing effect they have,” said Scott. “No one can get a long-term lease. No one can make refurbishments, and I have a real feeling of guilt about that. I think we’ve done a disservice to businesses based there. To me, (the ICO) gives LAWA cover and an excuse and an apology to go for another five or 10 years arguing it out.”

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