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Oklahoma Law Limits Building Heights Near Airport Runways

Thu April 07, 2011 - West Edition
Jennifer Palmer

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) A new law restricting the height of buildings near an airport may be flying under the radar with some developers.

The Oklahoma Aircraft Pilot and Passenger Protection Act took effect Oct. 1. It requires a permit from the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission for proposed structures taller than 150 ft. (45.7 m) that are within 3 mi. (4.8 km) of an airport runway.

For example, a wind turbine near an airport, such as in Weatherford, would not be allowed under the law. But the Embassy Suites hotel in Norman is just shy of the 150-ft. limit, though it is within 3 mi. of the Max Westheimer Airport, and would not be affected.

Airports in Oklahoma City, including Will Rogers World Airport, Wiley Post Airport and Clarence E. Page Municipal Airport, are exempt but military airports such as Tinker Air Force Base are protected by the law.

So far, all six permits received by the commission have been approved, said Director Vic Bird. Though the commission has contacted many agencies to alert them of the new law, some people may still be unaware, he said.

Steve Schuller, an attorney with the Gable Gotwals law firm’s Tulsa office, said more attention should be brought to the law.

“It does restrict the use of your property, but for a good reason,” he said.

Bird said the intent of the law is not to discourage construction but to protect the safety of airports, pilots and passengers.

Wind Turbine Too High

In Weatherford, a wind turbine constructed near the Thomas P. Stafford Airport runway caused the Federal Aviation Administration to alter the way pilots land there. Landings there now require more steps by the pilot and are not ideal from a safety standpoint, Bird explained. And that’s what the Oklahoma Aeronautics Commission wants to avoid.

Developers still have to comply with FAA restrictions and city zoning laws, but the pilot and passenger protection act adds an extra layer.

“It not only gives us a say, but the final say,” Bird said.

Bird said the commission’s staff wants to work with developers and come up with reasonable solutions for both parties.

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