The dogfight over the Orlando North Airpark has ended.
After objections from bird enthusiasts, neighbors and some government leaders, the West Orange Airport Authority has decided against trying to turn the small airfield on Jones Avenue into an aviation center comparable to Orlando Executive Airport or Leesburg International Airport.
“Too many issues,” authority Chairman Guy Haggard said after Wednesday’s board meeting.
Haggard said the aviation authority, created by the Legislature to develop a public-use airport in west Orange County, will refocus its attention at Orlando Apopka Airport, which is adjacent to U.S. Highway 441 and is likely to present fewer development challenges.
“I think it’s a better location overall for what we want to accomplish,” he said.
Haggard, an attorney with the law firm of GrayRobinson in Orlando, envisions the airport becoming a catalyst for economic development in the region and becoming a transportation hub with easy access to the Wekiva Parkway and a future commuter rail spur that hooks up with Sunrail.
Civic leaders in west Orange and east Lake counties, as well as environmental groups, had lined up to oppose Orlando North Airpark as the future site of the Central Florida Business and Aviation Center, one of the suggested names for an airport that could accommodate small business jets.
Foes feared that flying small jets so close to the north shore of Lake Apopka would harm not only the thousands of birds that visit or nest in the marshes, but could also imperil budding efforts to develop the area into an eco-friendly tourist attraction that draws big-spending bird watchers.
As the crow flies, the Apopka airport is 3.8 miles east of the air park.
The Apopka airport likely will face opposition from environmentalists for the same reasons as the authority’s previously preferred site, said Jim Thomas of the Friends of Lake Apopka.
“Whereas the Orlando Apopka Airport may be a little farther away, may be slightly better [than the air park], it’s still going to have a problem. …Your problem’s going to be large soaring birds in huge flocks,” Thomas told the authority. “You don’t have to be a scientist to realize that putting an airport with small jets adjacent to one of the largest migratory [bird] flight patterns in the country, if not the world, is just not good common sense.”
Haggard said the environmental issues are not as challenging at Orlando Apopka, which has been in existence since the 1940s and is used by propeller aircraft. He said the airport, when developed into a business airport, likely would not handle the same load of corporate jets as Orlando Executive Airport, a concern of its critics.