Commission Works To Bring Airport Land Use Into Compliance With FAA Regulations

By: Tim Wood

CHATHAM – In 1964, the town went through a complex series of steps in order to transfer a portion of what was then airport property to the town's VFW. A portion of the land now occupied by the Brown-James-Buck Post on George Ryder Road remains under Chatham Municipal Airport ownership, but lacks a lease.

That is a violation of the airport's federal obligations, according to a 2015 Federal Aviation Administration land use inspection report. Two other areas of the airport property with long-time non-airport uses are also in violation of the obligations, including a two-acre area on the airport's south side used for storage of fishing gear and a half-acre parcel along George Ryder Road where a shellfish workshop and kennel are located.

The airport commission is working on a corrective action plan to address the issues raised in the 2015 report, and recently examined a real estate appraisal report commissioned to determine the fair market rent for three non-compliant parcels.

Like the mandate that the airport allow skydiving – an issue currently being battled out in court – the land use requirements are contained in federal grant obligations the town has received for the facility. Since 1982, the airport has benefited from more than $6 million in federal airport improvement grants, according to the report.

Non-aviation uses of airport land, fee and rental structures were examined in the 2015 report. Under the federal requirements, the airport should have leases for each of the three areas, and should be collecting rent that must be used for airport expenses only.

The real estate appraisal report by the Appraisal Company of Cape Cod compared the non-aviation land uses with similar properties but cautioned that zoning and other restrictions make the parcels “extremely unmarketable,” thus the market values are significantly lower than commercial or other property in the area.

For the .57 acre municipal area, where a 940-square-foot building is located for use by the animal control officer as a kennel and as storage by the shellfish and harbormaster departments, no lease was in place. The land also holds a sewer pumping station. According to the May 26 real estate appraisal, fair market rent is $4,800 per year.

Principal Projects and Operations Director Terry Whalen said officials plans to ask the FAA that the cost of connecting the airport facility to the town's sewer system, as well as ongoing annual sewer fees, be credited toward the rent for that parcel. The town has already appropriated $50,000 for the airport sewer connection, he told the airport commission June 5. Annual sewer fees have yet to be calculated, he added.

A 2.12 area of vacant land at the southwest end of the airport property is classified as recreational, and the appraisal sets its fair market rent at $5,500. A .799 acre portion of that parcel is used by the VFW as a ballfield and playground area. A five-year lease was in place beginning in 1989, calling for a $200 per year payment, but that lease has since expired. Because the VFW is a nonprofit organization, the town may ask the FAA to waive the rental payment requirement for that parcel, Whalen said.

In 2015 the airport commission voted to file a formal release for the recreational land with the FAA to change its use classification to non-aeronautical. Draft releases, which declare that the property will not be needed for airport use, are being prepared.

The 2.07-acre area accessed off Wilfred Road has been used as a storage area for fishing gear by members of the town's commercial fishing fleet for years. Permits are issued by the harbormaster, and each fisherman pays $600 annually for each 5,000-square-foot lot. Ten permits were issued last year, nine this year.

Previously $100 of the permit fee was put in the airport's dedicated fund and the remaining $500 went to the harbormaster's budget. From now on all $600 will go to the airport, and the town appropriated $3,600 this year to the airport fund to cover permit fees going back six years. The town is also requesting that the FAA consider work by town staff cleaning up the area as in-kind payment toward the back rent.

The fair market rent for that land was set at $5,400, which is “right on target” for the current rent being paid, Whalen said.

Officials hope to be able to submit draft releases and other information on land use compliance efforts to the FAA by mid July, Whelan said.