If Northampton County Council gets its way, a proposal by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority to sell Braden Airpark for redevelopment will never take off.
County Council Thursday night voted 8-1 to approve a resolution opposing the sale of the airpark, located in Forks Township on Sullivan Trail.
The Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority has recently discussed proposals to sell off its properties to relieve itself of more than $16 million in debt. Among these properties is the 80-acre Braden Airpark, which authority officials said could possibly be developed for a variety of uses, among them warehouses. The authority recently hired a major regional developer, the Rockefeller Group, in hopes of identifying possible future uses for the site, which is still in active use as a small-plane airport.
According to the three-point County Council resolution, the sale and development of Braden Airpark “would be a loss for general aviation pilots and would force them to find hanger space elsewhere; would undoubtedly increase small plane demands at the Lehigh Valley International Airport; and could create unwanted demands on the already strained residential, commercial and industrial infrastructure resources in Forks Township and surrounding communities.”
County Council President John Cusick said he believes there are more suitable properties owned by the Lehigh-Northampton Airport Authority in Hanover and East Allen townships that would “provide greater potential for economic development.”
Councilman Thomas Dietrich raised concerns that shutting down smaller airports like Braden will lead to small plane pilots turning to Lehigh Valley International Airport, which could result in them taking up time on runways that should be designated for larger aircraft.
Casting the dissenting vote was Councilman Lamont McClure Jr., who said the airport authority, which needs money to pay down its debt, believes the sale of the Braden site and other properties is the only option.
Forks Township officials discussed various concerns about the proposed airpark sale during a recent Board of Supervisors meeting.
Supervisor David Billings said during the Sept. 20 meeting that he was concerned the authority -- which purchased the airport from the Braden family in 1999 -- did not actively reach out to the township to inform local officials of possible plans to sell the property.
“We have no legal rights in a sale of this property, but I think they should come here to get our input,” Billings said. “I think our community deserves the airtime for them to hear what we have to say.”
The property is currently primarily zoned for recreational, educational and municipal purposes. “If anything except these uses are proposed, they would have to go before the zoning board of adjustment,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Erik Chuss.
If future proposed uses fall within the current zoning, the plans would be reviewed by the Township Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.
“We would have our say in how the property is used, but not in the sale,” Chuss noted.