The Huntington Beach Planning Commission voted Tuesday night to allow Meadowlark Airport owners to build a shopping center and 600 homes on their 1940s-vintage airfield.
The decision came after a sparsely attended, one-hour public hearing, one of several held since July to consider a request by airport owners Art and Dick Nerio to turn the 65-acre property east of Bolsa Chica Street between Warner and Heil avenues into a more lucrative development.
Meadowlark, one of only two remaining municipal airports in Orange County and the site of several aircraft accidents in the past decade, will not be closed for some time..
The Planning Commission voted 5 to 2 to rezone the property from low-density residential to a planned community designation. This allows the Nerios to build 600 homes and a 15-acre commercial center. Dick Harlow, a consultant and spokesman for the Nerios, said the commercial development would probably cater to residents and be anchored by a grocery store.
But the Planning Commission did not vote on a specific plan that would dictate zoning regulations, residential density and details like traffic circulation. And because the Planning Commission has no jurisdiction to call for closing the airport, Meadowlark will continue to operate until it is leveled for the new construction.
The commercial portion of the new development will likely be the first of several phases of construction that were stipulated by the commission to allow for placement of adequate sewage and road facilities.
A specific plan will be considered at the commission's Dec. 1 meeting.
City planners, in their staff report to the commission, endorsed most of the Nerios' requests but recommended permitting only 600 residential units, or 12 to the acre.
The Nerios had asked for 750 residential units but agreed to 600 at the beginning of the meeting.
Pilots have bemoaned the loss of the small airport, citing a lack of tie-down space in the county. Some owners of homes beneath the flight path--which is flanked on all sides by homes and commerce--have argued and pleaded with the Planning Commission to somehow preserve the open space. Some have said they would rather risk an aircraft crash and tolerate low-flying, noisy planes than endure traffic that a large development might bring.
But a crowd of 300 people turned out at a Sept. 30 public hearing, and a majority of those speakers beseeched the commission to close the airport.
There has never been much question as to whether the airport would be closed but rather when, and what would replace it. The Nerios, who have owned Meadowlark since 1952, have for years sought to close the airport and develop the property. In 1980, the Nerios received City Council approval to convert the airstrip to a trailer park. They apparently abandoned that plan but were denied a zone change a few years later for a mixed commercial and residential development.