A Costa Mesa developer has applied to build a helicopter landing pad atop an office building next to John Wayne Airport, and Newport Beach officials and activists are lining up to fight it.
At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Newport Councilman Keith Curry asked the city manager to consider opposing the project.
Because most JWA planes take off over Newport, its residents have traditionally fought the hardest against airport expansion and noise.
But the developer and at least one Costa Mesa city official say they have stepped too far in this case. The conflict raises the questions of what is an airport expansion, and how much should Newport Beach residents intervene in their neighbors' affairs.
"Newport wants to clamp down on any expansion of the airport footprint," said Newport Councilwoman Leslie Daigle, who sits on the Airport Land Use Commission.
Daigle was the lone dissenting vote when the commission approved the helipad application last week. She said she couldn't approve the project because the business owner hadn't performed a noise study and, in her opinion, it was "amorphous growth of the airport," among other concerns.
Newport and Costa Mesa are part of the Corridor Cities Coalition, which has pledged to prevent expanding the airport's physical footprint.
The one-story building at 3132 Airway Ave. is in Costa Mesa, so the next step in the approval process is at the city's Planning Commission. In the light industrial area west of the airport, the office property abuts JWA land. It shares a chain link fence, said Kevin Coleman, a Costa Mesa real estate developer who owns the building.
He wants to build the helipad to accommodate his new tenant, Leading Edge Aviation Services, a commercial aircraft painting company.
Leading Edge executives want to be able to drop off and pick up clients on the roof, instead of walking to their nearby hangar.
"It would be like you go to work and have to park two blocks down the street," Coleman said.
Headquartered on the other side of JWA for years, Leading Edge has now outgrown its space, Coleman said.
Started by Castaway's resident Michael Manclark in 1989 with five employees, Leading Edge now has annual revenues of more than $27 million, according to its website.
"He's an American success story," said Costa Mesa Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, who also sits on the Airport Land Use Commission. "Everyone talks about government getting out of business owners' way, then they turn around and do this."
Righeimer said the helipad won't increase the noise because Manclark already flies his chopper in and out of a port 200 yards north of the proposed landing pad. And besides, he and Coleman say, there are plenty of jets there that make much more noise.
The noise isn't so much of a concern as an errant rotor blade for Bob Sladek, head of school at Mariner's Christian School, which sits about 900 feet away. He said he'd like to know how close to the students the chopper will fly.
A report prepared by the commission said that Mariner's Christian is not in the flight path.
Protecting students is one of the arguments that Newport lawyer Robert Hawkins made in a letter he sent to the commission.
A board member of airport activist group AirFair, Hawkins said he was writing on behalf of "residents and groups in Newport Beach" and not in his official capacity with AirFair.
In 2010, AirFair board members opposed a new luxury corporate jet hangar and helped kill the project.
"This is an emotional issue because Newport Beach wants nothing to do with John Wayne Airport," Coleman said. "That's an agenda that's been going on for 30 years, and there's nothing I can do about it."