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Airport overlay may restrict redevelopment of Montgomery Field

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An airport protection zone for Montgomery Field might affect the ability to redevelop the western part of the airport to be demolished, and could even impact properties across Highway 163.

"We have always had some restriction, but now it seems we are going to have even more," said Joy Hagin, director of facilities at Cubic Corp. (Amex: CUB).

Cubic has just under 400,000 square feet of industrial space on a 25-acre campus, directly across Highway 163 from Montgomery Field.

The airport overlay, mandated by the state and being considered by the San Diego Regional Airport Authority, could keep Cubic from redeveloping a property with buildings that are 30 or even 40 years old.

"It sounds like they (the airport authority) are trying to move this through fairly quickly," Hagin said.

As noted by Buzz Gibbs, owner of Gibbs Flying Service, who recently won a battle to stay for another year, there are numerous other businesses that could be impacted, including at least a portion of the Hawthorne Retail Center, the Jack-in-the-Box (NYSE: JBX) headquarters at 9330 Balboa Ave., and an array of smaller industrial properties.

The Hawthorne Retail Center is 140,756 square feet and is anchored by Yoahan Market, Staples and Computer City. The center, which also has an In 'N Out Burger that Gibbs said could be particularly vulnerable, was acquired for $22 million by Gerrity Morgan Stanley in 1998.

Gibbs added that there are numerous small industrial-type businesses scattered throughout the zone that could find themselves in difficult straits if they wish to redevelop.

In the meantime, the airport authority has agreed to place a vote on Montgomery's overlay on hold at least until later this summer, but that doesn't mean things are standing still at the airport.

Mickey Cafagna, Square One Development president and Poway mayor, wants to redevelop the Spider's Aircraft leasehold of approximately 3.5 acres at the southwest corner of the airport, but he also might not be able to do as much as he wants. Some of the buildings date back to World War II.

While Spider's has been operating in an airport protection zone for years, because redevelopment is being considered, and the fact that the airport authority is reviewing the overlay, this has come to the fore.

What's more, up until now, the authority staff has generally come up with overlays that have been much more restrictive than those that currently exist.

The overlay today cuts off at least a portion of a hangar and 30 tie-down spaces, but this may or may be changed.

Cafagna said he would like to keep those tie-downs, but Tracy Means, the city's airports director, said as she interprets both state law and Federal Aviation Administration requirements, those uses would need to be scraped clean.

With hangar costs rising, tie-downs are in extremely high demand at Montgomery Field. People have been known to wait as long as a decade to obtain such a space.

Numerous portable buildings would also be impacted. However, an aircraft mechanic's school of Miramar College is just outside the zone, and Pacific Wings, a small flight school that operates out of a trailer, is outside the airport protection zone, but is part of the Spider's Aircraft leasehold and would be redeveloped. Air Charter Express is also in this leasehold but outside the protected zone.

While Cafagna is reportedly the only developer that is talking to the city about redeveloping the Spider's leasehold, he still will have to compete for the right to develop.

During a meeting of the Airports Advisory Committee at Montgomery Field Wednesday, Cafagna said he would do whatever he could to satisfy existing tenants but made it clear "that we won't satisfy everybody."

During the two-hour meeting, many complained that what could happen at Montgomery Field is what has been happening at Palomar Airport with larger turbine and jet aircraft forcing out the smaller general aviation aircraft. These big, new aircraft are in the process of being housed in large, expensive hangars.

"Everybody wants to squeeze out the little guy," Gibbs said.

While Montgomery Field's runways can only accommodate small jets, it can still handle large executive twins such as the Beechcraft King Air and smaller jets. That fact worries many small aircraft owners who can't afford to pay $2,000 a month or more to store their airplane.

Michael McCarthy, who has worked at Spider's Aircraft for the past 20 years, said it would be a mistake to crowd out the general aviation.

"People are concerned that our trend could follow Palomar," he said.

Related Articles:

Airport authority proposes zoning overlay plan for Lindbergh Field (Apr. 25, 2005)

Federal obstacles stand in way of converting Montgomery to other uses (Apr. 6, 2005)

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