Thursday, December 9, 2011
Airport rules collide with waterfront
‘Outdated' restrictions prompt safety revisions
By Mark Noack
The Half Moon Bay (CA) Review
The airport safety zone for the Princeton area just south of Half Moon Bay airport.
When it comes to land-use rules, Princeton's harbor commerce and its airport planes have been on a collision course for years.
The seaside town surrounding Pillar Point Harbor is classified by San Mateo County as a waterfront district, but much of the area also falls under strict safety limits for the nearby Half Moon Bay Airport.
One of those safety restrictions mandates that a large swath of parcels in Princeton have no more than three people in them at any time - a rule unheard of at other airports, including San Francisco International.
That conflict came to a head last week, when the county Board of Supervisors reviewed the use permit for the fish wholesaler Exclusive Fresh, which has violated the airport safety rules for years by having as many as 28 employees working at its Princeton Avenue warehouse.
As a signal that officials now view the airport safety rules as outdated, the county Board of Supervisors gave a pass to the Princeton fish wholesaler. The county exemption would allow Exclusive Fresh to continue operating while the county waits for a revision to the airport safety rules.
The three-person limit around Half Moon Bay Airport was put in place in 1990, so that, in the event of an airplane crash, people would be more spread out and less likely to be harmed. The rule is outdated, said county Planner Summer Burlison.
"Here you have a waterfront district, yet then you also have the airport that puts this strict restrictions on how many people you can have," she said. "Policywise, they go against each other."
County planners are not certain how many Princeton businesses and homes are actually violating the airport safety restrictions, because the rules generally are not enforced. The county began investigating Exclusive Fresh only after receiving complaints from a neighbor.
There have been no airplane crashes in the area, so the density of people hasn't been an issue. There are no similar restrictions in place at San Francisco International Airport, which has about 300,000 more flights per year than Half Moon Bay Airport, according to officials at nearby cities. Neighboring cities, including Burlingame and Millbrae, do limit the height of buildings and what type of development can go near the airport, but they don't meddle with the number of people at one site.
"Wow, that's a very strange rule," said Millbrae planner David Petrovich. "I don't know what would explain such a limitation for Half Moon Bay."
For reasons that aren't entirely clear, the Coastside airport adopted tighter land-use rules compared to other areas, Burlison said.
"You look at San Carlos or SFO, and you don't see anything as restrictive as what we have," she said. "They have much higher flight frequency, but they aren't as restrictive."
The airport safety zone for Princeton may sound arcane, but the rationale behind it is sound, said Richard Napier, executive director of the City / County Association of Governments. He said all airports are required to limit density, especially near the ends of the takeoff runways.
"If an airplane conks out, you don't want it hitting a lot of people," he said. "I can assure with 100 percent accuracy that you have this issue at all airports."
C/CAG expects to begin drafting a new set of land-use guidelines for Half Moon Bay Airport starting next year.