Northwest Observer

Airport expansion puts homeowners in ‘limbo’

The Piedmont Triad Airport Authority's recent purchase of two houses on Old Oak Ridge Road signals its further expansion into residential areas

NW Greensboro – Chris and Fenna Corry are preparing to move, although they don’t know when, if ever, the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority (PTAA) will buy their house and five acres.

The retired couple learned 17 years ago that their property, located on the western side of Old Oak Ridge Road, is targeted for acquisition by the authority. This past March, PTAA bought two nearby houses and posted a No Trespassing sign, alerting property owners about the authority’s plans to acquire land for economic development.

Like several dozen other homeowners living in the path of the airport’s planned expansion area, the couple doesn’t know if and when PTAA officials will offer to buy their land.

“You’re in limbo,” said Fenna, 73, stepping onto the porch of the house the couple built in 1985 and where they later raised their three children and a foster child. “We don’t know. That’s the quandary.”

As part of its long-range strategic plan, PTAA is now focusing on the acquisition of property along Old Oak Ridge and Pleasant Ridge roads that it doesn’t already own. The authority wants to expand the 1,000-acre site – which includes the former Pleasant Ridge Golf Course – it’s assembled over the past 20 years.

Grading is underway for the $500 million factory where Boom Supersonic plans to build passenger jets traveling faster than the speed of sound. It sits on 65 acres between Piedmont Triad International (PTI) Airport’s terminal and Interstate 73, leaving more than 900 acres for future development.

Since landing Boom Supersonic, airport officials have begun talking to a dozen prospective tenants about projects that would create from 250 to 2,000 jobs, according to Kevin Baker, PTAA’s executive director. All of the prospects are aviation-related, so they’re interested in the taxiway that will bisect the 1,000-acre tract.

“It’s like a business park for airplanes,” Baker said in an interview last week as he looked at a map of the site. Boom “is just the start; there are going to be more.”

In anticipation of eventually selling their land to PTAA, the Corrys plan to relocate to Chatham County where their daughter, Bronwyn, lives with her family.

“I don’t think we’re going to be here very long,” Chris said in an interview last weekend. Reclining on a porch swing, the 76-year-old retired homebuilder pointed across the wide grassy field sloping downhill to the woods that marks the edge of PTAA’s 1,000-acre tract.

The couple’s self-reliance is evident on the hillside – a bountiful garden brimming with tomatoes, beans, squash and cucumbers and a row of blueberry bushes running alongside the gravel driveway. Trees are heavy with figs and apples.

“This is my little paradise,” said Chris, recounting how he built a treehouse for his children on a tree that is no longer standing.

Fenna recalled their daughter’s wedding on the hillside.

“Our children’s memories are tied to this property,” she said over the gentle whine of a small plane passing overhead.

Chris also built his family’s home from oak timbers he milled himself. Family photographs cover the pine-plank wall beside the kitchen table. Nearby, freshly picked tomatoes fill a plate.

In the center of the living area, the trunk of a tall cedar supports the stairs to the second floor, which, like the rest of the house, is heated by a wood stove.

On the chance they may sell their house, the Corrys have resisted spending on major improvements such as the replacement of windows. They’ve delayed replacing upstairs carpet, opting instead to just have it professionally cleaned.

The couple has put their lives on hold in other ways. After the death of their dog last year, they haven’t gotten another one, preferring to wait until they move.

If that occurs, the couple figures PTAA would demolish their house. Aside from taking the couple’s possessions, Chris plans to salvage mementos and keepsakes. Among them is a long slender piece of wood hanging on the kitchen wall that marks the heights of their children growing up.

Planning ahead, Chris is also saving the trunks of oak trees to cut into planks for the couple’s new house. Even though he knows he’s going to need help building another house, he said, “I’m going to eke out every ounce of energy I’ve got to make this happen for my family.”

Knowing PTAA is “a willing buyer,” some property owners in the acquisition zone are taking a proactive step and offering to sell their property to the authority, Baker said. Even so, he added, airport officials plan to step up efforts to alert people living in the areas targeted for acquisition.

“We want people to know what’s going on,” Baker said. “This is very much out in the daylight.”

PTAA pays appraised values for property, according to Baker.

Over the past decade, the authority has spent $5 million to $15 million a year acquiring property, Baker said. It’s appropriated about $15 million in the fiscal year that started July 1 for more acquisitions.

PTAA is in the process of updating its 2010 master plan, which guides the three phases of its land acquisition strategy.

Completing assembly of the 1,000-acre tract was a focus of the first phase, which started in 2011, according to Baker.

Underway now, the second phase plots the acquisition of property over the next 20 years. It envisions the acquisition of property on the western side of Old Oak Ridge Road that PTAA doesn’t already own. That includes houses on Pawnee Road and Schuyler Lane where the Corrys live, as well as the Hidden Oaks subdivision near the intersection of Old Oak Ridge and Pleasant Ridge roads.

However, Baker said PTAA may decide not to seek acquisition of houses in Hidden Oaks.

“You’re talking about a lot of money to buy a whole subdivision,” he said.

The second phase also envisions the acquisition of property on the northern side of Pleasant Ridge Road that contains Calvary Church and the Bon Aire subdivision, according to the master plan’s map. Duke Energy utility lines form the northernmost boundary of that area.

Just outside of the acquisition zone is the new development of 298 houses and townhomes at Pleasant Ridge and Alcorn roads, according to the PTAA’s map. Three subdivisions on the eastern side of Old Oak Ridge Road – the Cardinal, River Hills Plantation and Oak Bend – are also outside of the acquisition zone.

Looking 30 years and longer into the future, the third phase envisions the possible construction of a third runway at the airport. The project would require the relocation of N.C. 68 south of Pleasant Ridge Road, according to Baker.

“This is a 50-year look,” he said. “Right now, we see no reason why it would ever be needed. But shame on us for not planning in case it were needed.”

Baker said he doesn’t expect the update of the master plan to dramatically change PTAA’s land acquisition strategy. The authority views the three phases as a guide for buying property as it becomes available.

“The phases are not meant to be absolute,” Baker said. The plan is “not meant to handcuff us or confine what we may or may not acquire.”

want to know more?

For more information about the three phases of land acquisition around the airport, search online for “Piedmont Triad International Airport master plan update.” Go to section 6.0 in the plan, starting on page 121, to view commentary and land use and acquisition maps.

Airport expansion puts homeowners in 'limbo'

Airport expansion puts homeowners in ‘limbo’

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