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Airport Drops Plan for Terminal

Citing community resistance, the Burbank facility's authority votes 5-4 to end a more than 20-year effort to replace existing building.

November 09, 2002|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

Frustrated by a lack of community and political support, a split Burbank Airport authority voted Friday to abandon a two-decade effort to replace its aging terminal with a new facility on another site nearby.

After casting a 5-4 vote, commissioners emerged from a closed-door meeting to say they are dropping their plans to move the terminal because of strained relations with Burbank city officials and residents who vehemently oppose airport growth.

"There's just incredible resistance to see a terminal built," said Chris Holden, president of the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority, who was among those who voted to abandon the effort.

The only way the authority would resurrect its plan is if "the FAA mandates that we move the terminal" for safety reasons, said Commissioner Carl Meseck, who also voted to kill the plan.

Authority Vice President Charles Lombardo, who wanted the facility moved, said the panel's action would have "a very bad impact on Burbank residents."

The decision drew outrage from some Burbank officials, who for the past several years have made nighttime flight curfews and growth restrictions into bargaining chips for allowing the airport to expand or move its terminal.

"This is a big step, to say they're giving up on a new terminal," said City Manager Robert R. "Bud" Ovrom. "This is telling Burbank they're not going to do curfews."

Peter Kirsch, the city's attorney who handles airport issues, agreed. "For the authority to essentially throw in the towel is pretty irresponsible," he said. Even without a new terminal, he added, "Burbank will use whatever power it has to make sure this airport is carefully planned with community consultation."

But some residents placed blame with the city, which recently approved a plan to expand the 14-gate, 173,000-square-foot main airport terminal building by 40,000 square feet so that the facilities could accommodate beefed-up security measures required by federal law.

"The city gave it all away when it allowed [the airport] to expand," said resident Stan Hymon, an advocate against airport growth. He called the airport's security concerns "a pretext" for enlarging its facilities.

Burbank Airport officials have been working toward moving the terminal since at least 1980, when the Federal Aviation Administration said the 70-year-old facility was too close to one of the runways.

Current airport building standards require that a terminal be located at least 750 feet from the runway's center line. Portions of Burbank's terminal are only 300 feet away.

A proposal to move the terminal to a parcel of land owned by Lockheed Martin fell apart in 1985 when the Department of Defense objected to public use of the property because it was too close to top-secret manufacturing facilities for the military, said airport spokesman Victor Gill.

The airport again tried to move its terminal in the late 1980s onto a different parcel of land, but problems with the environmental review process scuttled that attempt.

In 1999, the airport authority spent $86 million to purchase a 130-acre parcel from Lockheed. That same year, the agency reached a tentative agreement with the city to build a replacement terminal on the site, expandable to 19 gates.

In return, airport officials agreed to numerous concessions, including closure of Burbank's passenger terminal between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. to reduce noise.

But that plan ran into opposition from the FAA, which called the planned closure a de facto curfew, which is restricted under federal law.

The tentative agreement expired in May 2000, when the airport could not obtain FAA approval for flight curfews. Last year, Burbank voters complicated negotiations by approving Measure A, which prohibited the City Council from approving new construction at or renovation of the airport unless a mandatory curfew was imposed.

In August, Superior Court Judge Richard Montes declared Measure A unconstitutional, saying the initiative violated state laws governing airports, elections and the environment.

But Measure A still "reflects community sentiment" about what the airport should be allowed to do, the authority's policy statement said.

Measure B, another voter initiative passed in November 2000, requires that "if there is a deal for a new terminal, it would have to go before voters of Burbank," Holden said. "The voters of Burbank can still veto the deal."

Meanwhile, the parcel purchased for the new terminal will probably be leased or sold, officials said. A developer is negotiating with the airport to buy that land for building a Wal-Mart and a Sam's Club, Ovrom said.

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