By Diane Wagner
Engineers are starting to design a security fence that will eventually circle the perimeter of Tara Field.
The airport, owned by Clayton County, is near the Atlanta Motor Speedway on U.S. Highway 19/41 in Henry County. The Clayton County Board of Commissioners accepted a federal grant Tuesday that provides $360,000 for the fencing and runway lights.
"The airport won't be totally enclosed at this stage," Airport Director A. Wayne Patterson said. "We still have several other (adjacent) properties we'd like to acquire."
The project is part of a long-range master plan that includes a 1,000-foot extension of the 4,500-foot runway.
The extension is for safety reasons, not to handle larger planes, according to Jim Duguay, a planner with LPA Group Inc., the consulting firm in charge of the improvements.
However, landowners in the area remain concerned about the effects of the upgrade on their lifestyles and property values. Mark Little said he has dropped plans to build a home on a wooded tract that has been in his family for generations.
"We thought it would be crazy to put that kind of money into a house when there are all these uncertainties," he said.
Airport officials have asked both Henry and Clayton county commissioners to adopt zoning overlay districts around the airport. The overlay districts would limit the type of development that could occur on the lands.
Patterson said he expects to see restrictions by the end of the year on the Clayton County side of the facility, and he is hopeful Henry County will shortly follow suit.
"I think all of us are in agreement that it's in the best interest of Henry County and Clayton County," he said. "The worst thing would be to let a residential subdivision be built in that area."
The Henry County Board of Commissioners has a proposed overlay ordinance ready to adopt, but is delaying the move to discuss a partnership in the facility. The board directed Commissioner Gary Freedman to take the lead in discussions.
"I'm planning to sit down and negotiate with (Clayton officials) in the near future, so we can have a say in what goes on there," Freedman said. "We have indications they may be interested and I think, once that starts, the (Henry) board will be inclined to look favorably on the overlay."
Freedman said he supports the creation of an overlay district, regardless of the outcome of the talks.
"It's only fair to restrict residential construction in the area, to give people advance notice that it is in both the noise zone and the flight path," he said. "The airport's going to expand anyway, so we need the overlay as protection for our residents as well as for the airport."
The decision is not likely to be popular with area property owners who turned out in force for a February town hall meeting on the issue. Several voiced complaints about the increasing traffic at the airport, and lodged protests against any restrictions that could make it more difficult to sell their land.
"I don't think it's fair," Little said. "If someone came along and wanted to develop it as residential or commercial, like Liberty Square (mixed-use subdivision) across the street, they should be able to do that."