The fate of the Cloverdale Airport is up in the air as city officials grapple with whether to grant a developer’s demand to close it in order to accommodate a proposed $200 million resort next door.
Closing an airfield involves a lengthy federal application process with an uncertain outcome, but developers of the 254-acre Alexander Valley Resort say they are willing to foot the bill, as well as pay for more than $7 million in improvements to repurpose the airport into a sports park.
Laulima Development LLC officials, who are planning an equestrian center, say that horses and airplanes aren’t a good mix, nor will low-flying aircraft be appreciated by the guests and residents of the high-end resort and homes that would be built nearby.
The City Council on Tuesday is expected to signal a direction, if not vote outright, on whether to embark on the process of applying to the Federal Aviation Administration to close down the half-century-old facility.
“My sense is the vote could go that way,” Mayor Bob Cox said Friday of the likelihood he and his colleagues could decide to try to have the airport closed following a public hearing on the topic that begins at 5:30 p.m.
But he also cautioned that even if the City Council unanimously moves to shut down the airport, the FAA “could still say ‘no.’ ”
Any effort by the city to close the Cloverdale Airport is expected to be challenged by aviation groups, and perhaps some of the tenants there.
There are 17 airplanes based there, according to the most recent count. There are more than 20 tenants at the airport — including aircraft owners and two businesses, one of them a skydiving operation.
A number of organizations, including the Aircraft Owners Pilot Association, already have indicated their willingness to bring legal action to keep the airport open.
“They are completely against the possibility of closing the airport,” Michael Morrissey, Cloverdale Airport manager, said Friday.
The effort to close the airport and transform it into a sports complex, with soccer, baseball fields and other amenities, has buoyed the hopes of airport critics already upset over noise from planes connected to the local skydiving operation.
The possibility has also excited residents who are eager to see more recreational opportunities in Cloverdale that might include team sports, as well as potential walking trails and a park for dogs and skateboarding.
But airport defenders say the 58-acre facility is more than just a launching pad for hobby fliers and has served as a base for medical evacuations, firefighting, business flights and a fog-free alternative when the airports in Santa Rosa and Ukiah are socked in.
FAA approval to close airports has historically been limited, according to an aviation attorney hired to consult for the city.
“Normally, such approval has been because of a new replacement being built,” consultant Henry Nanjo said.
Nanjo said in a report that there has been a large number of very small general aviation airports that closed down as growing cities encroached upon them.
Most were small private airports without FAA support, including some in Santa Rosa and adjoining areas, but many closed in the 1960s, he said. A few private airports have been closed as recently as the 1990s, according to Nanjo.