Koladza Airport owners plan expansion but the neighbors disapprove

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By Wednesday, Feb 8 News  24 Comments
Heather Bellow
Berkshire Aviation Enterprises Inc.’s expansion proposal for the Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington has the residential neighborhood around it worried about the safety, noise, aesthetic and environmental impact of three new hangars, an access road and parking. One owner said the expansion won’t significantly increase activity by much. Opponents say the owners are playing down the magnitude of the expansion. Pictured, a plane after take-off over Seekonk Cross Road.

Great Barrington — In a rural residential area surrounded by corn and hay fields and rolling vistas, owners of what is now a small-town airport have expansion plans that have neighbors flooding town officials with emails opposing the project.

The Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington. Photo: Heather Bellow

The Walter J. Koladza Airport in Great Barrington. Photo: Heather Bellow

Berkshire Aviation Enterprises Inc. (BAE) is asking the town for a special permit for three new, prefabricated metal hangars 147 feet long by 50 feet wide, 18 parking spaces, a new taxi way and an access road off Seekonk Cross Road.

But since the Walter J. Koladza Airport doesn’t technically have a permit to exist since it was built before the town had zoning regulations, it will go to the Selectboard Monday (Feb. 13) for that official stamp of compliance before it presents its expansion plans. Right now, it sits in a residential zone.

The owners are getting these affairs in order in preparation for their bigger ask of the Selectboard next week after the Planning Board gave it a thumbs up recommendation. Board chair Brandee Nelson had suggested a balloon test to get a sense of the building height and footprint and that will happen later this week.

But neighbors say the increase in aviation activity and ground traffic will seriously alter the feel – and possibly the safety – of the area.

Mike Peretti has lived there for 53 years,and says he’s never had any concerns about the airport until the last four to five years. “Things are bulging at the seams,” he said. “There’s heavier usage, private helicopters – the military is using it pretty regularly at night.”

There are also concerns that their special permit will allow future expansion. And since the airport is close to the Green River and aquifer, the town’s water supply, there are concerns that even the 500-foot setback from the river won’t totally protect it from a bigger, busier airport and more runoff potential.

“What are we doing here?” Peretti said. “What do we want this to be? Once you start going to the next level, I don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The runway at Walter J. Koladza Airport, as seen from Seekonk Cross Road, is half a mile long. The new hangars, road and parking are planned for the hay field to the right. One of the airport's owners says this will automatically keep the airport a small one into the future. Photo: Heather Bellow

The runway at Walter J. Koladza Airport, as seen from Seekonk Cross Road, is half a mile long. The new hangars, road and parking are planned for the hay field to the right. One of the airport’s owners says this will automatically keep the airport a small one into the future. Photo: Heather Bellow

Seekonk Cross Road resident Joseph Krummel wrote to the Selectboard with these further concerns about the airport expansion, among others. BAE’s plans, he wrote, “will turn this “country airfield” into a sterile commercial airport. It sounds like semantics, but one can envision what will come next, such as security fencing, a widened runway, newly paved and lighted taxiways, the additional hangars with flood-lights, and new lighting for not just flight operations but also for the parking lots, access roads, and additional buildings. And of course accompanying this expansion will be the increase in flight operations from larger aircraft that will use the modernized facilities as a private charter operation.”

But part owner Thomas Vigneron, a flight instructor and charter pilot, told The Edge things aren’t going to change that much given the limitations of a 2,500-foot (half-mile) runway that has pilots often choosing to land in Pittsfield.

“It will still be a fun little airport,” he said, noting that the plan for new hangars is in response to airplane owners who are using tie-downs outside and have asked for indoor space.

Vigneron said while, yes, this expansion would accommodate more planes, it wouldn’t be by much. But he did say that asking the town for a special permit will keep BAE from having to return to the town each time it wants to add something.

Right now around 50 airplanes are tied down on the field alongside Route 71 where there is a parking area, administrative office and self-fueling area.

The 50 planes now at the airport are tied down. The property’s only open hangar is in the background. Photo: Heather Bellow

The 50 planes now at the airport are tied down. The property’s only open hangar is in the background. Photo: Heather Bellow

“It’s mostly to accommodate our existing customers who have been asking for this for a long time, because they have a fair amount of money invested in their aircraft and want to store them inside.”

He also said some second homeowners have said they would keep their planes here “if we had a nice hangar.”

Vigneron, a Great Barrington native, said the hangars would have internal dividers to give each airplane its own space and door.

He further said the roughly $4 million in BAE’s grant requests to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) do not appear to be coming through. But he said MassDOT would likely pay for 80 percent of paving and other costs and, several years ago, funded an $80,000 runway rehab because it is for free public use. He said the state wouldn’t help BAE build hangars, however.

He said the expansion was one financial strategy to help the airport break even. He said BAE makes money right now from the maintenance shop and fuel sales, with overnight tie-down fees for transient pilots. He said BAE does not get income from the military for practice runs.

And it is this “presence of Blackhawks for training” and “the large volume of student pilots,” along with the added threat to the water supply that worries Marcia Stamell.

The plan, she wrote in an email to the Selectboard, may add safety risks, “will pollute the air, and will undermine both the view-shed and the quiet nature of a modest, close-knit neighborhood.”

She called it “a pilot’s expanded playground” without any benefits to the town, like jobs. “It will just cheapen a part of town for private profit and the convenience of a select few.”


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24 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Helen says:

    This seems like a no brainer for the Selectboard. Imagine if one of their neighbors wanted to add three corrugated metal structures, 150 feet long each(!), a paved road and 18 parking spaces. Worse, what if they were doing it to accommodate out of town guests who visit a few weekends a year.

    An airport in a residential neighborhood is already a delicate balance. This proposal is way too much.

  2. Helen says:

    This seems like a no brainer for the Selectboard. Imagine if one of their neighbors wanted to add three corrugated metal structures, 150 feet long each(!), a paved road and 18 parking spaces. Worse, what if they were doing it to accommodate out of town guests who visit a few weekends a year.

    An airport in a residential neighborhood is already a delicate balance. This proposal is way too much.

    1. Noah Meyerowitz says:

      Hi, Helen, It’s not to accommodate transient flyers. It’s for the locals, like me, who keep their aircraft at the airport year-round, and want to protect our great investments. It’s about safety, convenience, and progress.

  3. John says:

    Great Barrington Airport is a wonderful small town airport. It was great to take the kids there to watch the planes take off and land and the atmosphere is so friendly! A true gem.
    It appears that the airport management has taken a common sense approach with adding a few hangers to help it remain sustainable, but let’s face it there is never going to be boeings there for those concerned.
    Perhaps the proposal for the hangers could include an asthetic aspect, so that it looked like the natural surroundings. Perhaps the outside of the hangers could be constructed with an old barn like appearance and then have them nicely landscaped with plantings and trees? With this approach, it could look like many of the Berkshire farms.

    1. Casey says:

      Great vision John! Barn like hangers amazing. You have my vote.
      We also spent our childhood at the airport watching planes and take our grandchildren when they are in town.
      We have unfortunately been there when lifestar has flown in to pick up someone, but am thankful we have an airport in the neighborhood for such help. Our grandchildren have been interested in the added helicopters saying that “those are the guys that will keep us safe practicing” . Out of the mouths of babes.

  4. Robert E. Parrish says:

    This three ring circus with the added noise, lost of a splendid vista, pollution of the environment, lights, and without
    consideration of the property values of the neighbors and within a residential zoning is grotesque. A sporting airport
    is one matter, however, an expansion without consultation with the adjoining property owners is not acceptable.

    1. Barbara Barak says:

      Yes. I have a home on Long Island, and any changes to zoning requires a variance meeting by letter invitation to all surrounding home owners. Isn’t that required by our town? Of further concern is the timing of this Selectboard meeting, in the middle of winter when many neighborhood people are away, can’t get there, or don’t know about it.

    2. John says:

      Robert,
      As a child, I remember going into Nicks Hanger and admiring the airplane. While this was on his (and i suspect now your) property, there is a precedent for Great Barrington airport having additional hangers in years past.

  5. Barbara Barak says:

    As a neighbor with-in the fly zone of this airport, I am greatly concerned. There seem to be no provisions in the plan to limit the expansion, so that concerns about noise, air, and Green River polution are not prevented. If it is just to “accommodate existing customers”, then their should be no objection to barring the developments that Joseph Krummel fears. I have already experienced an increase in airport activity that has become a significant distraction to the peace and quiet of the area, and it will dramatically reduce real estate values for all surrounding houses. I am beginning to regret buying property and building a house nearby. I plan to address and attend the Select-board meeting on Monday and urge others to do so.

  6. Noah Meyerowitz says:

    As a resident of Great Barrington, a neighbor of the airport, an aircraft owner, and active community member at the Great Barrington Airport, I’m strongly in favor of the proposed hangar-building plans.
    Our small town airport will never become a traditional fence-wrapped, high-volume, brightly-lit commercial airport. That’s simply not who they are. The Great Barrington Airport is a locally-owned, community-supported venture. It provides a gathering place for weekend flyers to socialize, and share their great passion for aviation. It’s a grand, diverse community of wonderful, welcoming people, which you’d know if you’ve ever visited. And if you haven’t, stop by anytime! Everyone is welcome to share in the wondrous joys of flying.
    As an active, influential member of airport, and other Berkshire communities, I promise to do my part in advocating for all parties. But what I will not support is a fear around any growth or progress. This airport simply will not survive forever without changes, and it would be a detrimental, tragic, and economic loss for Great Barrington and the Berkshires as a whole.

  7. Robert E. Parrish says:

    John, there is no hanger there currently, my father’s hanger was for one plane, blocking no neighboring views, masked by evergreen trees
    which also acted as windbreaks. Private ownership is quite different than an expansion of this magnitude without consideration for any
    depreciation of property values or lost of the splendid views from my home of Tom Ball, the cornfields and farmlands, the woods adjacent
    to Green River, the natural beauty that makes the Berkshires so attractive for tourists and homeowners. Let’s keep this in perspective.

  8. Eleanor windman says:

    We do live right by the airport and have always enjoyed the sight of the planes coming and going….but I lived under JFK flight path and it was pure hell. Property owners will be hurt and all neighbors will be as well….let’s leave what we have…we are dealing with enough changes…enough environmental tragedies…progress is not necessarily our most important product..people’s lives matter

    1. Noah Meyerowitz says:

      Hi, Eleanor, this is no JFK, nor will it ever be. Great Barrington Airport will never be able to accommodate jet aircraft. The runway is too short, there are too many obstacles, and the mountains would act as such a great hazard. So I can promise you––this is not something you’ll have to worry about dealing with ever. [But just imagine that convenience! :-)] Adding hangars won’t harm anybody. If anything, hangared-care of the aircraft would mean greater safety for all. I really must stress that this is not too accommodate more, bigger aircraft––it’s to accommodate the environmentally conscientious locals, like me, who want to protect their investments.

  9. Vicki Windman says:

    I am one of the neighboring homes to the airport. I chose Egremont because of its quaint charm and deep regard for the environment– If there is an expansion we will have more pollution to the Green River, more noise pollution, and the loss of land preservation! During this time of chaos PLEASE think about leaving this beautiful airport as is.

  10. John says:

    Great comments here. Great Barrington airport is no JFK or will it ever be…. great Barrington airport has been there for many many decades.
    Many of the airplanes are over 50 years old. They have been caringly restored and are now meticulously maintained. Many are of fabric and wood construction. It is a shame to leave these, frankly, antiques out to the harsh elements only to be ravaged by wind, hail and snow. Please remember, -a hanger is not like an automobile garage and that is constantly used. A hanger is where an old airplane sleeps and remains quietly immobile 95 percent of the time.
    It would be nice if the new hangers had the appearance of farm barns, a row of trees to screen on the backside toward the road, or neighbors and landscaping.

  11. james m says:

    The airport has existed in that location in some shape or form since the 1920’s. The hubris and selfishness of those who bought homes knowing an airport pre-existed their purchase, and are now complaining is stunning. It’s analogous to buying a home in a bucolic open meadow environment and then complain when it is realized the farmer spreads manure spoiling summer barbecues. Caveat emptor.

    1. Holly Hamer says:

      We knew the airport “pre-existed” in a residential zone. What we didn’t know was that it was un-permitted and unregulated and that certain “grandfathered” practices threaten the aquifer for the town’s drinking water supply. Huge physical growth as proposed by the owners is not something homeowners need to swallow as part of the risk of living near the airfield. If it were, our property taxes should be considerably less and we should definitely use the savings to buy more health insurance and bottled water.

      1. John says:

        Holly,
        I could agree with you if the structures proposed were gas stations, industrial plants or condominiums. The proposal represents a very small square foot increase in percentage to what the airport is now. The proposed hangers are not 5 story buildings, but 1 story similar to that of a garage, Simply to minimize the destructive weather to an aircraft. Not only that, a hangered aircraft is not subject to water intrusion if it’s kept inside can be considered safer.
        A simple hanger poses no threat to Green River. Frankly I’m more concerned with new homes in close proximity to Green River as being a concern. You may reconsider your bottled water proposal as given heated plastic, does leach….
        The Airport while privately owned, is federally recognized and is subject to expansive federal rules and regulations.

      2. Joe says:

        Holly you must read the berkshire record letter to the editor

  12. Jim Johnston says:

    Maybe we can drive this business out of town too. I can’t fathom someone being upset about what goes on at the airport when they purchased (or built) a home in proximity to something that has been there for decades.

  13. Joe says:

    It is important to remember everything that the airport offers to the town’s economy! Pilot’s traveling to Great Barrington come to GB for the restaurants, business, and ski-slopes. Without the airport here, the town would lose out on a wide array of visitors. The airport will never be encompassed by a fence, nor will its runway ever be widened or legnthened. In fact, the airport will never see an aircraft larger than what it has already seen. These hangars do not have to be the sterile buildings you are thinking of, instead they can be beautiful buildings that add to the landscape and vista that the Berkshires have to offer. Additionally, these hangars will not increase the activity at the airport, instead they will just provide better storage and protection for the aircraft owners already utilizing the airport.

    1. Joe says:

      JOE, Should the Residents of Mass start paying for Golf Carts too? Private Country Clubs bring people far and wide,yet pay for themselves ,YOU are Asking Residents To Fund Your Hobby, You People Have Leaded Fuel Airplanes In The Towns Only Source of Water , Yes I Think All The Pilots Should Get Together AND Buy A piece Of Property In The R/4 Zone,Out side the Aquifer And We Can All Be Happy! MONUMENT MOUNTAIN IS AVAILABLE ,CONTACT TONY BLAIR GREAT BARRINGTON MA. Thank You JOE.

  14. Eleanor windman says:

    After attending the town meeting on proposed airport expansion I came up with a great idea.

    I will build a new cirque du soleil abutting your property..it will bring money into Great Barrington it’s a place to house my elephants…and I can travel to it whenever I want…I’ve always loved the circus…and I hope you will too.

  15. Johnny I says:

    I fail to see how building hangars is considered and “expansion”. I also fail to see how this will effect water ways. That is a stretch. This airport brings transient money to the area. It is truly one of the best little airports in the country.

    The owners are simply asking to provide a garage for the airplanes (not elephants that pollute the water) on the airfield. Yes, this will generate some income for the airport. Good for them! This is not a request to add to runway length to allow larger aircraft use. There will not be curb side check in!

    It will be the same ole airport only with a couple new garages is all. Don’t be afraid of new.

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