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City to refresh plans for former municipal airport land

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A Roswell city official said the city will reconsider development plans for the Old Municipal Airport land near Cielo Grande Recreation Center now that the Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to remove all restrictions from the acreage. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

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City says it is free to develop land after FAA agrees that obligations have been met

The city of Roswell will reconsider the type of developments to be built on land that once was used for the municipal airport, now that the Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to a full release of the hundreds of acres in the northwest part of the city.

Community Development Director Kevin Maevers said that the FAA decision, discussed briefly by Mayor Dennis Kintigh during a Sept. 9 Roswell City Council meeting, gives the city the opportunity to rethink what could happen to the Old Municipal Airport (OMA) land on both sides of West College Boulevard near the Cielo Grande Recreation Area.

“In a post-COVID world, we firmly believe that we need to take a good, hard look at everything,” Maevers said. “I am going to be taking a clean-sheet-of-paper approach to the Old Municipal Airport. We are going to be looking at increasing the amount of lands for commercial availability. We will be looking at increasing the land for workforce housing and multifamily housing so that we can provide homes for people moving into the area. And then, of course, we are going to take a look at the recreation facilities from top to bottom.”

Maevers joined the city about six months ago, but city staff previously had developed some concepts and had reserved some zoning provisions for a mixed-use development in the area.

They envisioned new businesses, retail stores, restaurants, apartment buildings and a plaza area that would be developed over many years and would exist next to the structures already there. Those include a New Mexico Fish and Wildlife administrative building and a city fire station; buildings owned by community groups, churches and private businesses; and many recreational sites, including Noon Optimist baseball fields, an archery range, a skate park, the Roswell Recreation and Aquatic Center, and the Cielo Grande park and trails.

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But Maevers said that the city wants to reassess what the current and future needs are for the city and its residents.

He added that “quite a few” potential developers, including local and regional residential and business developers, have made inquiries regarding the land. Various city documents have described the overall size of the former airport land as anywhere from 500 to 650 acres.

Maevers said that The Oaks subdivision, a planned residential development that fronts West Sycamore Avenue and is intended to have as many as 800 homes, is meant to be integrated with whatever development does occur in the OMA area. The subdivision is in the design phase.

“That was one of the reasons we were pushing so hard,” Maevers said. “Much of the infrastructure, including the primary access of Nevada Street, goes right up the center of the OMA property.”

Current city administration began talking publicly in October 2018 about the FAA release of the land. Then they began researching the exact nature of the original agreements and communicating with FAA officials about what would be required to have restrictions lifted. They made a formal request of the FAA in 2019.

The land — with south-north boundaries of Eighth Street to about 19th Street and west-east boundaries of North Sycamore to North Montana Avenue — had been given to the city in the 1920s. Previously it had been a U.S. military field. From 1920 to about 1970, the city had its municipal airport there, and portions of old runways and roads are still visible.

The U.S. government decided in 1967 to close Walker Air Force Base on the south side of the city, turning over much of that property to the city as well by 1968. The city then began its plans to move its airport to the former base, which it completed by 1973. The Old Municipal Airport terminal building was used for a time by the Roswell Police Department and various other groups, but it was demolished in September 2015.

Among the conditions agreed upon by the city of Roswell and the FAA when the city relocated the airport was that the city would invest at least $953,000 in the new airport, then called the Roswell Industrial Air Center and now known as the Roswell Air Center, before the FAA would give the city free use of the property.

According to a Sept. 15 announcement by the city, the FAA recently indicated that it expected the city to prove that it had put $3.75 million into Roswell Air Center operations during the past six years. That amount was considered the current value of the 312 undeveloped acres of the OMA property, according to the city.

Kintigh said that City Manager Joe Neeb, Air Center Director Scott Stark and especially Administrative Services Director Juan Fuentes deserved praise for their efforts during the past years to secure the release of the land.

“This has been 50 years that this has been hanging over our heads,” Kintigh said during the city council meeting. “Nothing works quickly with the government.”

According to the city, it was able to prove to the FAA that it had put in more than the required monetary investment. Some of the projects the city has done at the Roswell Air Center in recent years have included water and sewer system improvements and the construction of two new water towers to serve the Air Center and surrounding area. The water tower project alone cost more than $6 million.

Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 351, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.

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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.