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Airport commission recommends actions

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Could a “tiny home” such as this be in Roswell’s future? A Roswell International Air Center employee says a possible use of state land near the air center that is now unused could be an affordable housing project made up of various sizes of tiny homes. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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A city commission has recommended that elected officials take three actions related to the future development of the Roswell airfield and some land in the city.

The Airport Advisory Commission met Thursday morning, and its five members unanimously agreed to recommend to city councilors that they seek a release of the former Municipal Airport land to free it for other uses; that they request the transfer of state property to the city for future development, possibly of an affordable housing project; and that they allow the airport to create an additional parking lot prior to the Christmas holiday.

Former municipal airport land release

In prior meetings, city and Air Center staff and Mayor Dennis Kintigh, who also serves as chair of the commission, talked at length about the situation involving the former Municipal Airport in the northwestern part of the city off of West College Boulevard.

Built in 1929, the property had been an auxiliary airfield for military during World War II, but was used after that as the city’s airfield until the Roswell International Air Center on the south side of the city was created for all airport and aviation operations.

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When Roswell received the West College Boulevard land from the U.S. government, the Federal Aviation Administration outlined the terms the city would have to meet should it want to use the property for something other than an airport. That included providing at least $572,893 of money derived from the property to the Air Center and funneling 50 percent of all revenue generated thereafter by sales, leases or fees up to a maximum of $953,294 to the new airport.

Although city and Air Center staff at this time can identify only $53,106 in direct funding transferred to the new airport, they have said such things as city fire and police services or infrastructure investments during the past decades far exceeds the payback criteria.

“We are way off from what needs to be done to satisfy that resolution,” said Air Center Director Scott Stark. “The other side of that coin is that we have provided millions of dollars in infrastructure to support this airport. The bottom line, as I said, the city is petitioning the FAA to be released from the obligation to use the land that was formerly the Roswell Municipal Airport.”

While Stark said he has made initial contact with the FAA regarding the matter, he and Kintigh said that the best way to proceed probably will entail hiring outside experts familiar with FAA land releases and known to FAA staff to negotiate the issue.

City staff have discussed using the West College Boulevard property for a mixed-use development with retail, housing and park features. A possible drone pilot training facility is also being considered.

State land transfer request

Kintigh is pursuing again this year the transfer of about 16 acres near the air center to the city. The land at 31 Gail Harris Street was once the New Mexico State Rehabilitation Center, which built a new facility a few blocks to the south in 2011.

Last year, state legislators from the area pushed bills in the House of Representatives and the Senate that would have authorized the sale of the land by the state for its appraised market value of $250,000. The House bill passed, but the Senate bill never went to the full floor for a final vote.

But Kintigh said he is interested in asking the state to transfer the property at no cost, if the city can show that the land would be put to good purpose. He pointed out that the property has been unused and unmaintained for many years.

Because the property is near homes, it could not be used for manufacturing or heavy industrial projects, said Air Center Manager Mark Bleth.

“What will incentivize the state to just give us 16 acres of land?” he asked. “What I am proposing is housing.”

He said a company is seeking to develop affordable workforce housing in New Mexico, especially in the Roswell area. That company has indicated that the property could be appropriate for a tiny home project and provided a basic grid showing that the acreage could hold about 210 tiny homes consisting of one, two and three bedroom units.

Bleth said the housing project is a good fit with plans the city has for job and business growth at the air center.

“If we are successful in what we want to do, where would the construction workers live that build the new hangars? Where would the people live who work in the new hangars? … It is a challenge right now — housing.”

He said the units are attractive and would enhance the area, although city codes would have to be revised to allow such structures.

While the future use of the acreage is unsure at this time, the commission agreed to recommend that the City Council request the transfer of the state property.

Additional airport parking

The commission also recommended that the City Council allow Air Center and city staff to create an additional parking lot, ideally before the high demand period of the Christmas holiday.

Stark told commission members that the number of commercial airline travelers has increased by more than 25 percent from 2015 to 2016 and 24 percent from 2016 to 2017, with additional growth expected each passing year. As a result, the available employee and passenger parking lots are often overloaded.

Even though the city built an additional lot last year, there were still 100 cars parked in non-parking lot spaces for Christmas 2017, he said.

At this time, he is proposing a short- or medium-term solution of an additional parking lot near the airport terminal on 1 Jerry Smith Circle. He has identified three potential areas for a lot and indicated that city staff would be able to design and build the project themselves, probably using some paving materials already on hand.

He also indicated that long-term parking solutions will require more planning and funding. Ideally, he said, employees would have their own designated parking areas and all passenger parking would be at least 300 feet from the terminal as a safety precaution. He also said that the city would like to explore working with a third-party entity to build a covered, paid parking area.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 311, or at reporter02@rdrnews.