The Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority decided Thursday not to accept any offers for 105 acres of airport land that a stone company wants to turn into a quarry and that others hope will someday be part of William B. Umstead State Park.
At the same time, Chuck McFall Sr., RDU’s chief revenue officer, told the board that the airport will move to accept an offer from Wake County to lease two parcels totaling 151 acres nearby. The county wants to make the wooded land near Umstead park available to the public for hiking and mountain biking.
Conservationists and cyclers have wanted to secure all 256 acres of airport land for a recreation area that would connect Umstead State Park to the north with the county’s Lake Crabtree County Park to the south. They’ve attended meetings, signed petitions and contacted board members, hoping to dissuade them from leasing the 105 acres known as the Odd Fellows property to Wake Stone Corp. The company has operated a quarry on adjacent land since 1982 and has had its eye on the Odd Fellows property for several years.
Meanwhile, The Conservation Fund, a national environmental organization, offered to buy or lease the Odd Fellows property on behalf of the Umstead Coalition, a group of park supporters who would like to see the land added to the park.
On Thursday, the board decided to defuse the tension by rejecting both offers for the Odd Fellows property. Board member John Kane, a Raleigh real estate developer, proposed the bids be rejected, and the board agreed without discussion or dissent.
Afterward, Kane would only say that board members thought it was a good idea to take a “pause” on the Odd Fellows tract.
“We just felt like that was the best thing to do,” he said. “There’s no pressure on us to do anything with this land now.”
The airport authority made all three pieces of property available for lease on Sept. 8 and set a deadline of Oct. 9 for proposals. RDU wanted to see if it could generate some income from the property that it could use for airport projects, such as the construction of a new 10,000-foot runway.
Wake County made the only offer for the two parcels that make up the 151 acres just west of Reedy Creek Road. The offer was contingent on an appraisal that would determine the market value of the property, which the county would use to determine a lease price. McFall said the airport will also seek an appraisal, which it will use to begin negotiations with Wake.
The airport authority will have to approve the final terms of the lease, which McFall said should be worked out in the next 2 to 3 months.
The airport already leases 181 acres to Wake County for Lake Crabtree Park for a nominal fee. Authority members voiced support Thursday for leasing additional land to the county at something closer to market rate.
“It’s going to be a great win for the airport and the community,” said board member Larry Zucchino, an architect from Raleigh.
Jean Spooner, chair of the Umstead Coalition, said she was pleased the airport is poised to lease land to Wake County and glad the bid to lease land for a quarry was rejected. She said it means there’s still an opportunity to have the Odd Fellows property put to some public use that involves conservation.
Bill Holman, the state director of The Conservation Fund, agreed.
“We’d very much like to work with the airport authority and Wake County and N.C. state parks and the community on a conservation alternative for the Odd Fellows property,” Holman said. “We’ll look forward to more discussions with all the parties.”