As DeKalb-Peachtree Airport creates a road map to keep up with growth over the next 20 years, nearby residents are raising their own growing concerns to airport officials.
At the top of the list: Noise and air pollution.
With airport officials predicting a 37 percent increase in flights to and from the airport in the next 20 years, they have not indicated that the airport’s growth will slow down. However, at a Monday night meeting to discuss the airport’s current and future operations, they said they are willing to address some resident complaints.
“What we’re probably going to have, with the increasing coexistence of the neighborhoods and the airport, is more interest in … air quality, noise pollution,” said Chamblee City Councilman Thomas Hogan, who does not sit on the airport advisory board but attended the meeting. “It might make people feel a lot more comfortable knowing that there there is a plan in place.”
Airport director Mario Evans said Monday night that he was open to Hogan’s idea of setting goals for the airport to reach, including the possibility of forming a committee focused on the environment and sustainability.
The airport, known colloquially as “Peachtree DeKalb Airport” or “PDK,” is the second busiest airport in the state behind Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Located in Chamblee in northern DeKalb County, it expects to see an uptick in the number of aircraft based there as flights in and out also grow.
During Monday’s meeting, nearly every seat was full in the small room, which overlooks a large hangar at PDK.
Evans noted there were more people than usual at the meeting because of the recent news that the airport hopes to build eight corporate jet hangars on a 19.2-acre plot near Clairmont Road, where Chamblee’s border meets Brookhaven. News of the new hangars has frustrated some some neighbors who said they are already bothered by noise coming from the airport and are worried about a possible increase in air pollution.
PDK was developed on a former U.S. Navy base and has been owned by the county since 1959. The airstrip is used mostly for general aviation and smaller planes. It is no stranger to pushback from the community, which has historically battled with the airport over transparency, development plans and noise.
The number of flights coming in and out of the airport was higher before the economy crashed in the late 2000s, reaching 230,000 in 1999. Last year, there were about 159,500 takeoffs and landings.
Christopher Lee, the president of local neighborhood group the Dresden East Civic Association, said he sometimes hears planes landing, though they do not fly directly over his home.
“We have mixed feelings,” Lee said in an interview. “We don’t like the noise, we’d rather there not be an increase in planes, but it’s inevitable as Atlanta continues to grow, and companies and Fortune 500 companies move here.”
During the meeting, one woman asked if there were any plans for the airport to make up for the nearly 260 trees that the airport plans to cut down to make space for the hangars. PDK plans to plant more than 1,000 trees on airport grounds.
Evans previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he does not believe sound will be an issue with the new hangars, since there will still be a 40- to 80-foot buffer between the airport activity and the closest buildings on Clairmont Road.
The airport sees the new hangars as a “revenue-enhancing project,” since it would give more corporations the chance to base their jets there. The owners of planes stationed at the airport pay individual property taxes.
Evans also announced Monday that PDK’s noise and environmental analyst Nate Schattner recently left to become assistant airport manager at the Newnan-Coweta County airport. Noise reports and complaints filed by residents are “just sort of on hold,” Evans said.
“It’s me right now, and so they will be on hold until we can get someone in here,” he said. PDK is also hiring for a deputy airport director.
Residents said they are sometimes annoyed by planes that land or take off overnight. The airport has a voluntary curfew between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., during which pilots are encouraged not to fly, but it cannot set a mandatory curfew due to FAA rules.
“That’s when people are trying to sleep. This stuff wakes people up,” said Todd Duncan, a Brookhaven resident who lives near PDK. “It’s an extreme nuisance for the people who actually live here.”
Lee said the noise only bothers him “if the aircraft, you can hear that it’s extremely oversized and it shouldn’t be coming over here.” He said he sometimes is woken up by those planes as early as 4 or 5 a.m.
Duncan spoke up at the meeting about concerns over the fumes that the planes emit near PDK. Avgas, short for aviation gas, is a fuel that contains lead.
The board members said there is only a demand for avgas, and unleaded mobile gas is rare for airplanes and can be unsafe. Lead levels in the air around the airport, Evans said, are monitored to ensure they are safe.
Residents are expected to again speak out about their airport issues Thursday before the Chamblee City Council, where engineers and airport officials will attend a public hearing related to zoning requirements for the proposed new hangars.
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