Charlotte Douglas to spend $900,000 on airport development study

A US Airways jet takes off over the new hourly parking deck at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.
A US Airways jet takes off over the new hourly parking deck at Charlotte Douglas International Airport Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014.

Charlotte Douglas International Airport is growing, and the airport wants to create a new master plan to guide future development on the land surrounding the airport.

That’s why Charlotte City Council voted Monday to approve spending $900,000 worth of airport funds for a consultant to study the area and recommend best uses for the land. Charlotte Douglas is surrounded by large tracts of undeveloped land, especially to the west and north, and the city hopes to encourage more development in those tracts.

“It's not just the property the airport’s on, it’s the property surrounding it as well. This is the most important asset we have,” said council member David Howard, a Democrat. “This should be a transformative exercise going forward.”

MXD Development, a firm that has created master plans for other airports, will conduct the study, led by the airport’s development director, Stuart Hair. Interim aviation director Brent Cagle said the airport and its consultants will focus on identifying compatible uses for the 20 square miles of land around Charlotte Douglas, such as industrial, warehouses, logistics and other businesses.

The plan could also include residential uses, but those would have to be carefully planned to deal with airport noise, Cagle said. Charlotte Douglas is an independently funded city department.

“This project is the refreshing of a 15-year-old development plan,” said Cagle. The previous plan called for developments such as a third parallel runway and a rail freight yard, both of which have been built. “Most of the efforts in that plan are completed at that point.”

Developers have looked at the land between the airport and the Catawba River, which is mostly undeveloped and wooded. The area offers some of the largest tracts of vacant land in Mecklenburg County. Johnny Harris, who heads Lincoln Harris, previously looked at the area for a mixed-use development similar to Crystal City, a group of apartment buildings, hotels, offices and stores near Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va. The company put those plans on hold after the recession.

Council member Kenny Smith, a Republican, voted against the proposal. The other 10 council members voted in favor.

“How does it cost a million dollars to figure out how to develop around the airport?” asked Smith. He said market conditions have held developers back, not lack of a master plan. “They haven't figured out quite what to do. So it’s as much a market condition as it is a million dollars and a survey telling us to put light industrial here and there.”

Cagle said he was “surprised” by the price tag at first, but that due to the size of the study area, extensive outreach and meetings that are planned by the consultants and comparable prices at other airports, the study will be a good investment.

Ely Portillo: 704-358-5041, @ESPortillo