The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority has tweaked a proposed master plan, which would guide growth through 2040, to address concerns from outdoor enthusiasts who want to preserve about 600 acres of airport property for an urban trails center.
And while leaders say talks about potential development are ongoing, some hikers and cyclists fear the discussions aren’t enough to create their desired resource for their community.
The airport presented an update Tuesday to the conceptual plan, which lays out potential development of the airport’s core and surrounding land over the next 25 years. Tuesday’s workshop was the ninth one in the 18-month master planning process, known as Vision 2040,.
A previous draft showed parts of the 611 acres of recreational trails and forested land – between Lake Crabtree County Park and William B. Umstead State Park – could one day be developed with a variety of commercial and industrial uses, including a quarry, office park, parking or aviation support.
Dickie Thompson, RDU board chairman, told more than 150 people at the workshop that a piece of land north of Interstate 40 now will be designated to allow for aviation support or recreational uses. He added the airport is in discussions with Wake County and other entities about the possibility of a market-rate lease for the use of the land.
This did little to ease the concerns of members of Triangle Off-Road Cyclists and the Umstead Coalition, who are are championing a solution that calls for the 600 acres to be used for an urban trails center with more than 50 miles of trails and supporting commercial uses like bike shops, campgrounds and restaurants.
As many outdoor enthusiasts bearing “A Better Vision 2040” stickers scanned the updated master plan, their frustrations seemed to increase. Some said they feared that the presented plan would be implemented as shown – and too quickly.
But when Sig Hutchinson, vice chairman of the Wake County commissioners, confirmed that the county and airport are working on the possibility of a trails system, tensions seemed to diminish some.
“It’s very important for you to know the RDU authority is very receptive to conversations,” he said. “We are actively involved in the conversations with them, and that is an ongoing process. As has been articulated today, this is just simply a concept, but it’s very important that you stay engaged in the conversation.”
The authority must create this plan according to Federal Aviation Administration guidelines, but airport spokesman Andrew Sawyer said that doesn’t mean all of the property will be built out anytime soon or exactly as shown.
But the airport is facing a time crunch, he said. RDU representatives expect they will need to rebuild the airport’s longest runway in the next three to five years, and the airport can’t get the federal funding it needs to do that without FAA approval of this 25-year master plan. It could take at six to eight months for the FAA to approve the plan, Sawyer said.
“It could take awhile to get it approved by the FAA, but we need to go ahead and get that process started because we need to get the process started on the runway,” Sawyer said. “But the conversation with the community is going to continue after tonight. Just because the plan is submitted to the FAA doesn’t mean that changes can’t be made.”
Raleigh cyclist Natalie Lew said she is most concerned about a quarry shown on the concept plan in “one of the most beautiful sections of that area.” She said she believed a quarry would be the “most imminent” of the possible land uses shown. If constructed, she said, it would prevent the urban trails center concept.
“We want a great airport, but we need some clarification on when this land use plan really is going to be implemented,” she said, addressing airport authority members and master planning consultants. “Do we have time to discuss our proposal for the RDU forest?”
But Sawyer said in an interview that the airport doesn’t have a timeline for when development will occur in the next 25 years.
“We know the very first thing we need to tackle is that 10,000-foot runway,” he said. “After that, we don’t know the phasing, the sequencing of the other projects. It could be 25 years before we get to some of them.”
The RDU Board of Directors will consider taking action on this plan at its Oct. 20 meeting. Airport representatives also expect to hold another public workshop later this year to discuss implementation and funding.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608, @KTrogdon
See a map of the plan at vision2040.rdu.com.