For lease: 256 acres of undeveloped land at RDU

The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority has put these three pieces of land, totaling about 256 acres, up for lease.
The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority has put these three pieces of land, totaling about 256 acres, up for lease. RDU

The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority is making about 256 acres of undeveloped airport property near William B. Umstead State Park available for lease.

The authority announced late Friday that it will seek proposals to lease three pieces of property north of Interstate 40 along Old Reedy Creek Road. One of the parcels, of 105 acres, is adjacent to the Wake Stone Corp. quarry south of the park, while the other two, of 60.4 and 90.6 acres, are west of Old Reedy Creek Road.

The announcement follows the completion of a master plan that lays out potential development of the airport over the next 25 years, including undeveloped land RDU owns but doesn’t need for its core mission. The proximity of hundreds of acres of undeveloped airport land between Umstead State Park and Lake Crabtree County Park has inspired hikers and cyclists to propose an outdoor recreation area they called RDU Forest.

On July 10, a national environmental nonprofit group offered $6.46 million to the airport authority to buy the 105-acre parcel adjacent to the quarry. The Conservation Fund said it wanted to preserve the land and have it added to Umstead State Park.

Bill Holman, the state director of The Conservation Fund, said the organization received a letter late Friday saying the offer had been turned down. Farad Ali, chairman of the airport authority, listed several reasons why its long-standing practice is not to sell property.

“Airports must ensure safety, comply with a myriad of federal laws and regulations, and have adequate space for future development,” Ali wrote. “For these reasons, airports rarely sell property.”

Ali noted that leasing land would provide longer-term income and would give the authority the flexibility to use the property in the future if needed. He said the federal government must approve any sale of airport land and that it “strongly recommends that airports not sell property except in extraordinary situations.”

Ali ended the letter by saying that the Conservation Fund was welcome to propose a lease for the property, through the process announced Friday.

The airport authority already leases land for use as a park; Wake County leases 149 acres adjacent to Lake Crabtree County Park that are crisscrossed by hiking and biking trails.

Holman said The Conservation Fund would consult with Wake and state parks officials before deciding whether to make a lease offer for airport land.

The deadline for proposals is Oct. 9. The authority says it will accept offers for individual pieces of land or in combination.

Richard Stradling: 919-829-4739, @RStradling