Flagler County government loves its airport, its two runways that accommodate 500 flights a day and the $2.3 million it generates in services, $900,000 of it in fuel sales, according to the current budget.
The airport under Roy Sieger’s management has been the county’s true economic development engine. Its numerous businesses and leases–and private-sector jobs operating out of airport property–far outstrip anything the county’s hobbling economic development development department has managed to assemble, and at lower cost: the airport is essentially full, and looking to expand.
But Flagler Executive Airport, as it’s been renamed, is not making too many friends among neighbors, who year after year have been increasingly complaining to county officials about the noise generated by the airport’s torrid flight-school activity. Most of those 500 takeoffs and landings a day (or 435, depending on whose figures you choose) are generated by flight schools like Embry Riddle Aeronautic University’s.
Contrary to a recurrent myth among neighbors–a myth they don’t hesitate to disseminate, knowing it to be false if they look at their property tax bill every year–the airport is not hurting property values. Values are rising. But it is hurting neighbors’ quality of life for people who live in Quail Hollow, along Belle Terre Boulevard and its tributary streets, as well as in the LL section of Palm Coast. It’s not helping that while they hear airport noise day in and day out, the residents’ complaints have gone unheard, and it’s not helped that, at least from residents’ perspective, airport management has been dismissive.
A half dozen residents brought their complaints to the Flagler County Commission Monday evening, the latest in several attempts to catch commissioners’ attention. This time, the residents made some headway, perhaps because one of them threatened a lawsuit: County Manager Jerry Cameron said there will be a workshop on the issue, and solutions sought, in January.
It was the first time that, first, county government acknowledged that a problem exists, and second, that it was willing to seek possible alternatives.
It was Jay Siciliani, a resident of Zinnia Court, who threatened a lawsuit.
“I talked to Roy Sieger the airport manager, again last week about this issue,” Siciliani said, “and his response to me was: ‘The airport has been here since 1942, before the homes were built.’ My response to him was: the homes were here before the flight schools were allowed at the airport, so what’s the point? Nobody has made any effort to solve this problem in the two years that we’ve been addressing it. The airport should go with the community, not against it. People move to Palm Coast because of its peacefulness and natural beauty. If the county does not control how it grows, then Palm Coast will become undesirable.”
He presented options, asking for traffic to be controlled by allowing training planes to operate five days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays, with no flights on Sundays and holidays. He said the county commission controls the airport “no matter what anybody says,” and added: “If you refuse to help us, and we the people of this community that suffer from this, we’ll file a class-action lawsuit against the county and the airport for emotional distress.”
“It’s a complex issue, and I think the time has come to do a presentation to the public and the board, as to exactly what challenges we have and what might be done,” County Administrator Jerry Cameron said. “I would like to put that on the agenda for either the first or second meeting in January.”
The residents’ aim is to hear more than talk. Siciliani had help to make his points. Barbara Lake, whose house is about 150 feet from the edge of airport property (across Belle Terre Boulevard), spoke of health issues related to the noise. Another resident said the noise had become intolerable. “I bought my house down here 15 years ago,” she said. “I’m a New York City retired RN, and intended to retire down here, which I did a couple of months ago. My husband is currently in cancer remission. What attracted me to Palm Coast was, I was absolutely blown away by its pristine beauty. And Palm Coast was also built on the premise of being a refuge for its environment and its wildlife.” She said “dealing with the management there is absolutely impossible. It’s insulting. They mock us. They make fun of us. They don’t take us seriously, which is very discouraging. It just adds to the tenseness of what’s going on.” She said she knew she was buying property near an airport, but the noise was bearable when she did so. That ended as flight-school noise ramped up.
“There is a price to pay for progress, my friend,” she said she was told when she complained about real estate values “plummeting” because of the flight schools’ noise. “Well, maybe pilots will buy the houses,” she says she was told. “Besides, police and medics make more noise.”
In fact, far from plummeting, property values around the airport are rising sharply. Siciliani’s property, for example, improved 10 percent this year in just market value, according to the Flagler County Property Appraiser. The empty lot next to him improved 14 percent. The house two doors down improved 25 percent. All those properties are in the direct flight path of an airport runway. Closer to Belle Terre Boulevard, and therefore closer to the runway, a sample of properties along Zircon Court–from 13 down to 5 Zircon–shows each home’s or lot’s value increasing 15 percent, 22 percent, 12 percent, 15 percent, and 13 percent just year over year, from 2018 to 2019. The improvements are steeper going back a few years.
So residents won’t make headway with a property-value argument. But they seemed to be more persuasive when discussing their quality of life.
A woman who bought her house a few years ago in the Z Section knew of the airport, but not of the constant noise. “My dogs are afraid to go outside,” she said, “they look up at the air constantly because the noise is so loud and so annoying. We are trying to get rid of our house. We don’t want to live in Palm Coast anymore because of what’s going on and nothing being done about it.”
Previous presentations before the commission on airport activity have focused almost exclusively on the airport’s presence as an economic engine, each presentation hewing closer to PR for the airport than much else. Cameron’s challenge at the January meeting on the issue will be to give residents a sense that complaints will not merely be heard but, after years of county inaction, addressed.