Disappointment and frustration filled the lobby of a Raleigh-Durham International Airport building Tuesday as dozens of mountain bikers and other outdoor enthusiasts saw for the first time a potential 25-year vision for the airport’s surrounding property.
A 149-acre tract of land, home to their beloved hiking and biking trails at Lake Crabtree County Park, could one day become an office park and luxury hotels.
“We are stuck in the middle of three huge cities, but you’ve got this nice area where you can enjoy nature without having to drive for an hour and a half,” said Natalie Lew, a cyclists who lives in Raleigh. “If they destroy that, it’s just like destroying part of your heart.”
But airport representatives say the scenario seen Tuesday likely won’t happen anytime soon.
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The airport does not plan to develop the main 33-acre part of the park by the lake, where the boat ramps, play areas and picnic spots are located, because it is in a 100-year floodplain, airport spokesman Andrew Sawyer said. But it must come up with a plan for other pieces of airport property in case they are needed, per Federal Aviation Administration requirements.
“The requirement is if one day we see a need for it for airport use, we’ve got to use it for that,” Sawyer said. “We have very narrow parameters.”
About 150 people attended the airport’s seventh public workshop to provide feedback as the airport develops conceptual plans to guide development through 2040. This is part of an 18-month master planning process, called Vision2040, that began last summer and is expected to be completed later this year.
“We’ve got a central park there, and they want to destroy it,” Lew said. “You go out there after work, and there’s always people using it, not just bikers, everybody. To go out and tear half of it down and put buildings on, it’s kind of an insult to the community.”
The airport is required to meet many obligations to continue to receive federal grant funding.
But Sawyer said while the property in question may be needed in the next 25 years, the airport doesn’t anticipate needing to build on the site in the near future and potentially not for the entire 25-year period.
The airport anticipates needing 200 to 250 hotel rooms and 700,000 to 800,000 square feet of office space built by 2040. There are several other areas, besides the Lake Crabtree County Park site, where these uses could go, according to the concept plan.
“The only caveat to that is if someone came to our door with a great offer,” Sawyer said. “Unless an opportunity just shows up at our door, we don’t anticipate that changing for awhile.”
Some, like Lew, want to see the property sold to Wake County.
For this to happen, the land sale would have to be approved by the Airport Authority, Wake County, Durham County, the City of Raleigh, the City of Durham and the FAA.
“The FAA doesn’t often approve land sales,” Sawyer said.
But if an office park was built on the site one day, Sawyer said the airport would be willing to work with the developer to find a solution that would accommodate both parties, including keeping some of the trails on the business park site.
“We just have to work within federal parameters, and if we can do that, that’s a win-win for us and a win-win for the community,” he said.
The Airport Authority and its consultant, Ricondo and Associates, presented four other conceptual layouts for the airport that mainly focus on the airport’s core.
These alternatives depict runway and taxiways, terminals, parking and other features that will be needed as airport use increases, such as 23 additional gates airport staff expect to need by 2040.
A third runway is not expected to be needed in the next 25 years but will need to be constructed shortly after. One runway also needs to be reconstructed.
“The question is do we reconstruct in in place, or do we shift it over a couple hundred yards and rebuild it parallel to the existing runway so that we can still use it while we are building?” Sawyer said.
The airport will host its next workshop from 6-8 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 7, at the RDU Airport Authority administrative offices at 1000 Trade Drive in Morrisville. Airport staff hope to present a single concept to the public based on their feedback and complete the final master plan by this winter.
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-460-2608: @KTrogdon