As opposition to airport mounts, more people move next to it

Across the street from the Lake Elmo Airport, the second-smallest airport of the Metropolitan Airports Commission’s “reliever airports” — a neighborhood is rising from the onetime cornfields.

That’s significant given that the airport is becoming the focus of neighborhood opposition because of plans to expand one of the runways to a length similar to those at other small airports in the area, such as South St. Paul’s Fleming Field.

“Lake Elmo (Airport) is literally surrounded by residential, not commercial property like all of the other airports,” resident Maria Appelt said in a Stillwater Gazette article this week about residents taking their concerns to the Legislature.

“They (Metropolitan Council) have already said Lake Elmo needs to grow, and this seems to be in opposition to that,” Appelt said. “We have never been opposed to safety, but what do you need to have a safe airport?”

One might argue — as I’m arguing now — that one answer is not to build houses next to an airport.

But it’s too late for that solution. Sprawl is on the march in Lake Elmo, famous for its long-standing opposition to growth.

The city has thrown in the towel on preventing it, and farmers and other property owners are cashing in on the most profitable crop they’ll ever grow — houses.

“I have never seen a group so organized and so intelligent,” state Sen. Karin Housley, R-St Marys Point, told opponents of the plan when asked if she’d meet with the Metropolitan Airports Commission members who’ve advanced the plan in the face of their opposition. “I will help you with whatever you need help with.”

What might be the solution? Time, perhaps.

Speaking last Saturday to a group of mostly-graying pilots, the head of the largest association representing general aviation (that is: non-commercial aviation) presented daunting statistics showing a continuing decline in the number of licensed pilots.

Mark Baker, a Minnesota native and CEO of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said the number of new pilots each year pilot population has dropped 65 percent from the 1980s. From 827,000 active pilots then, the nation is down to 593,000 now, according to the AOPA.

Baker is embracing a series of proposal in Congress that would, among other things, simplify medical certification, but that’s an area generally of more concern to older pilots rather than younger people.

That reality, coupled with the unstoppable march of suburban sprawl, is dooming small airports all over America to shopping malls and housing tracts.

Archive: As Eden Prairie grows, an airport tries to get along with neighbors

  • PaulJ

    What if general aviation sees a revival due to simplified technology? There won’t be room left for easily accessible airports.

    • Airplanes are pretty simple things as it is. You’re speaking of ones that would just land themselves?

      • PaulJ

        I was thinking of easier navigation methods and maybe, someday, less expensive maintenance.

        • GPS has made navigation much easier and, particularly in the experimental category (lots of experimentals at Lake Elmo), the avionics and navigation equipment can be as robust as an airliner.

          Not so for the so-called production airplanes — Cessna, for example — because the cost of getting them certified is prohibitive, inhibiting innovation .

          That’s changing someone, though, as a matter of fact. A couple of weeks ago the FAA announced it would allow some of the equipment currently favored by the experimental aircraft community to be installed and production models.

          And the ability to do your own maintenance is also the big selling point for the experimental category. Still can’t do that with production aircraft.

  • 212944

    Yikes. Cannot imagine buying there. As it is, we are eight miles south of that airport and the number of low-flying hobbyists from there on Saturdays and Sundays over our neighborhood is annoying at best.

    • Eight miles south of Lake Elmo puts you somewhere around southern Woodbury. That area is the confluence of three general aviation airports — downtown St. Paul, South St. Paul, and Lake Elmo.

      • Matthew Becker

        I’m in Roseville and I love sitting in the backyard and watching the “low-flying hobbyists” make their descent into Holman Field. One guys trash is another man’s treasure, I guess…

        • 212944

          Right location, though I am not talking about planes on descent or takeoff, unless either of those includes flying in arcs and criss-crossing over neighborhoods at what is surely below 1,000 feet.

          • They don’t have much choice in that area. They can’t fly higher than about 1800′ AGL.

          • 212944

            But there is a lot of space between 500′ and 1800′ AGL, especially worth considering when flying over elementary schools and residential neighborhoods (again, criss-crossing and circling … not just passing over on the way to other places).

          • Paul

            You live in a popular practice area for three airports. Long straights roads for S-turns, turns around a point and emergency descents – sounds like you are witnessing VFR pilots in practice.

          • I’d have to know EXACTLY where this is located. There’s not a lot of crisscrossing and circling over there; it’s not a practice area. It’s too busy. You’d go over to the Wisconsin side to be able to get altitude for that sort of thing. It could be a place to practice emergency landings but 8 miles south of Lake Elmo is still pretty congested for that sort of thing. It’s also directly under the approach for MSP.

            It seems to me that the only way there’s crisscrossing and circling on an ongoing basis is if you actually live under an airport’s traffic pattern. If so, now we’re back to the original headline of the post. :*)

            Nobody I know spends any more time in the airspace 8 miles south of Lake Elmo than they have to. It’s a shooting gallery. Three airports, three different frequencies. Not to mention hot air balloons.

            That’s why I head for the river out of South St. Paul when I head northeast. I don’t want anything to do with that area.

          • Paul

            Here’s 10 miles south. 4,000 MSL ring of bravo. I did about 40 hours in this area alone doing my private out of KSTP – and my check ride. Being on KSTP tower and monitor 122.8 helps.

          • Did you learn at Wings? It used to be a big flight school out of downtown st. Paul. Eventually, it’s owner, Brian Addis, moved it to South St. Paul because of the flooding, but also because it was costing him too much in gas to have his students/instructors fly farther and farther east to get away from the increase sprawl. That would have been about 1998, I’d guess.

            Somewhere in that map is the location of my failed checkride in which I chose a landing spot for an engine out procedure that turned out to be a tree nursery in Afton.

          • I just remembered something. *I* circled over this area (two 360s) last Friday night. I was coming back from Red Wing and went north to look at a brush fire of some sort. But when I crossed the river and announced to the South St. Paul frequency that I was about 6 miles southeast of the field, someone else said he was about 5 1/2 miles SE.

            I decided to do two 360s for spacing, to allow the plane I couldn’t see to get closer to the field.

            If there’s anyone on the ground who was annoyed by the maneuver, rest assured, I wasn’t playing around. I was just trying fly safely for all concerned — in the air and on the ground.

          • Paul

            I was one of the last students out of Twin Cities Aviation before they closed their office out of the Flight Center FBO – Dec 2014. Passed my check ride first time; Woody said even a blind squirrel and find a nut. HA

            Interesting about Brian Addis; my current instructor moved from the east side of the field to SGS for the same flooding reasons.

  • Mike Worcester

    //One might argue — as I’m arguing now — that one answer is not to build houses next to an airport.


    Who issued the building permits that allowed all the housing to be built so close the the airport? Did the city have no say in the matter? (I thought FAA rules required a certain amount of setback space for safety reasons?)

    • It’s definitely not in the safety zone. It’s a rough idea of where this neighborhood is. Now obviously over the coming years, that’s going to expand, but right now it wouldn’t be in an area like Fleming Field, where they just took two houses that were oriented about 45 degrees off the end of the runway.

      The runway that is being relocated, I think, is the one on the bottom. You can see the at the lower right how close it is in its current location to the road. That’s why they want to move 30th St.

      MAC figures the runway expansion will increase flights 1-2%. I think they’re dreaming. The death spiral of general aviation isn’t going to be stopped because they moved a runway.

    • PSAGuy

      A bigger question is……
      Who would BUY a home that borders 1) an airport, 2) a railroad, and 3) on top of a water table that has been declared polluted ??? Who would buy such a place ?

  • Sarah

    While I appreciate the approach of your argument Bob, I do kind of take issue with the angle of your camera lens. Facing Manning Avenue, which isn’t the road directly affected by the MAC-approved lengthened runway. (In the interest of full disclosure, I live just south of the airport, in a farmhouse that was moved to its current site after the last expansion of the airport’s safety zone put its old foundation in harm’s way.)

    • Right. The street isn’t Manning Avenue but that’s not really the point. For one thing the new neighborhood is off the departure end of Runway 32. (the shortest runway at the airport which is the one that favors the prevailing wind) The safety question isn’t going to be any different there than it is on 30th St.

      In fact, it’s actually going to be intense for this neighborhood since the downwind turn on 32 (which isn’t the runway being rebuilt but is the shortest one at the field) will take planes directly over the neighborhood. In fact, now that I think of it, someone should suggest the FAA/MAC change the traffic pattern there to a right-hand pattern to route the traffic north of the runway.

      Also, keep in mind why MAC is pushing the runway expansion now. It’s because new neighborhoods are going up and the opposition will only increase.

      In the not too distance future, that whole area is going to be North Woodbury. That airport is on borrowed time.

      • Sarah

        Agreed, the airport is on borrowed time, which is certainly sad. We’ve lived in our current home for just about a dozen years now, so that memorable crash was just before our time.

        I will respectfully disagree, though, on the safety differences on the ground. The kind of sharp curve that’s proposed just before a 4-way intersection adds another level of risk in the name of compromise. The changes proposed for Manning have not been prompted by airport safety concerns.

        Given the acknowledged short-term nature of recreational flight in the area, combined with the actual use numbers that fall short of projections, it is a tough sell.

        While I haven’t researched it, I would safely guess the land where the runways and hangers now stand was once farmed and sold for the crop that – at the time – promised a greater return…

        • I looked up that crash and then deleted it from my comment. It actually wouldn’t be in that neighborhood. It went down on the east side of Manning.

          W.R.T. “safety differences” I’m not referring to the roadways. I’m referring to engine failures and where planes come down when they stop. It’ll be a significant threat to that neighborhood.

          I don’t know the entire history of Lake Elmo airport. I believe it goes back at least to the WWII doesn’t it? Wasn’t that big plume of poisoned groundwater (and whatever happened to THAT issue?) due to some sort of manufacturing operation that once occurred there during the war. I think it was known as Flynn Field back then.

          The other day, heading up Manning (I live in Woodbury), I got behind a line of cars doing about 30 mph behind a huge tractor and the planter behind it. I felt bad for the farmer but I could sense the impatience of the drivers.

          Talk about borrowed time, that guy’s on it too. It’s kind of sad to see what’s about to happen up there.

  • PSAGuy

    What kind of a concept is this Minnesota ? When a group of APPOINTED, politically well placed folks, can tell a nice little town what it must do ?? This is the silliest, most inane concept I have heard of in my 62 years on this Earth. Met Council ?? C’mon people….get some smarts and bounce this elitist group right out of town !!!