Fight Over Over-Flights

Angry residents vow to keep fighting despite the City Council's expansion of the Davis-Monthan high-noise zone

Fighting back tears, Jean de Jong expresses frustration at the recent action taken by the Tucson City Council concerning Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.

"There are thieves sitting on the council," the eight-year resident of a home near Broadway and Tucson boulevards says. "They are trying to steal from us, because they see benefits for themselves without paying the cost (for those benefits)."

Over the protests of hundreds of residents, on Oct. 25, the council imposed new building and zoning regulations on thousands of properties under the flight path of D-M. Despite the 6-1 vote, the controversy hasn't subsided.

According to Kathleen Williamson, co-chair of Tucsonans for Quality of Life, the issue "is forcing a lot of people into a political posture." Many of them, she states, were politically apathetic before, but aren't now, especially because they anticipate that more and louder jets will be using D-M, replacing the quiet, but aging, A-10 aircraft.

At a meeting last week, the group heard from Phoenix-area resident Dave Hodges. Hodges, who lives near an auxiliary airstrip of Luke Air Force Base, claims that newly adopted zoning regulations have destroyed his home's value.

To counter what he sees as government confiscation of his property, Hodges hopes Tucsonans will get actively involved in next year's federal government Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC) process. He thinks it is important that residents express what its like to live in an urban area under the flight path of a military airport.

"Politicians fear a joint Phoenix-Tucson BRAC effort," Hodges said, urging a massive letter and e-mail campaign.

Meanwhile, others are wondering what all the fuss is about.

"I don't know how things got so out of whack," comments Mike Harris, chair of the D-M 50, a local booster group for the base. "People need to let the dust settle and back off (a little). Nothing much has changed."

That opinion isn't shared by many property owners affected by the new city regulations. Based on noise levels for a speculative future mission at D-M, which would fly the much louder F-16 fighter, the council dramatically increased the size of the high-noise zone around the base by its vote. The result will add 6,500 housing units to the 1,500 already covered by stringent building and zoning requirements.

In addition to health risks caused by peak noise levels, airplane safety issues and quality-of-life concerns, the biggest impact of the new ordinance, residents fear, is that they will soon be living in areas now labeled by the government as incompatible with residential use. At the same time, they will have to comply with a state law which requires disclosure of a home's location in a high-noise zone to any interested buyer.

"I will take a huge hit economically over the price of my house," says de Jong.

Lisa McFarlane, another homeowner who was brought into the D-M high-noise zone by the council's action, says, "There is a direct connection between property values and noise levels."

A 1985 report by the Federal Aviation Administration backs up McFarlane's assertion. It states: "Studies have shown that aircraft noise does decrease the value of residential property located around airports."

Real estate agent Bob Norris, however, hasn't experienced that locally. Norris, who estimates that he has sold 125 homes near the air base in the past two years, says, "I've not seen any price difference because of D-M." Plus, he stresses, even complying with state law by providing a potential buyer a disclosure form that indicates the property is in the vicinity of a military airport hasn't hurt sales. "I've never had anyone walk away," Norris says.

Opponents of the new ordinance also criticize the obscurely worded notice they received about it, along with the reluctance of city officials to share information about the ramifications of the regulations. Plus, McFarlane bemoans the lack of public involvement in the entire process.

"This was a very shortsighted answer they came up with," McFarlane says. "They should have created a respective dialogue which came up with a win-win situation, instead of a sacrifice situation. As a result, there will be a significant impact on a broad swath of neighborhoods in the heart of the city."

David Confer, another opponent of the new ordinance, agrees. "This is a blank check for more flights over stable neighborhoods. That doesn't seem respectful of Tucson residents."

Opponents of the new regulations have been publicly labeled as unpatriotic for opposing the "sound of freedom" generated by D-M jets. They are also blasted for not knowing they were buying homes near a long-existing Air Force base.

In response, Confer says no one wants to see Davis-Monthan closed, but thinks people should be honest with their arguments. Acknowledging that D-M does have significant economic benefits for Tucson, he points out it has negative affects on lives as well. He also emphasizes that some central city neighborhoods were developed before the base was established over 75 years ago, and that the homes covered by the new ordinance are miles away from the D-M runway.

For his part, Harris also has some complaints about how the issue is being perceived. Although opponents of the regulations often cite the potential for a louder aircraft to eventually replace the A-10 at Davis-Monthan, the D-M 50 chair calls that premature, since the new airplane won't even be in production for another five to seven years.

Confer, however, thinks that by expanding the high noise zone around D-M on a speculative basis now, the city council is enlarging the negative impacts of the base. That, he believes, will result in community tensions nobody wants to see.

"It feels like (the council is telling us): This is a sacrifice we need to make," Confer concludes. "But that sacrifice isn't being borne evenly."

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