Shrinking noise from planes will open up more acreage for development


The shrinking noise nuisance posed by airliners taking off from McCarran International Airport stands to open up hundreds of acres of raw land ruled off-limits to residential and numerous other developments for two decades.

The Clark County Department of Aviation, which operates McCarran, is now drawing up rules on how to price removing deed restrictions attached to land, situated between noise zone boundaries set in 1992 and 2012, that was sold to private owners over the past two decades. Acreage still owned by the county between the old and new contours could be sold to builders with far fewer limitations than in the past on how it is used.

Major changes governing what was called the co operative management area (CMA) surrounding McCarran went into effect in late 2011, followed by a new airport-commissioned noise study last year, prompted the policy shift. That study marked the territory affected by more than 60 decibels - as determined by a complex formula - considered too loud for homes by federal government standards.

Department director Randall Walker has not set a timetable for submitting a pricing plan to the county commission and did not have a count of how much land was involved. When the CMA was established in 1992, it included about 5,000 acres covered by the restrictions west and southwest of the runways.

Still, developers began calling the airport management as word got out that a liberalization is in the works. Walker first raised the issue publicly at a breakfast meeting of the National Association of Industrial and Office Parks last week.

"The CMA has really tied the hands of developers," said Rick Hildreth, senior adviser with the brokerage Land Advisors Organization. "I think it will change the landscape drastically."

Recently, he said he handled a deal where the buyer paid $120,000 an acre for a 32-acre plot just west of the Beltway. Without the CMA restrictions, he said, "I'm convinced we could have gotten more than $200,000 an acre."

Further, land use and zoning expert Greg Borgel said ending the restrictions would reshape "irrational" development patterns. Because CMA-restricted land is interspersed in small parcels with unrestricted private land, subdivisions are often separated by patches of desert, Borgel said. Many streets are interrupted because builders pave them for just their own projects, he added.

The CMA boundaries were based on a 1992 noise study, aimed at preventing construction of a wide range of projects that might later complain about airliner noise, such as homes, hotels, hospitals and sports arenas. Experts agree that most of the land is suited only for housing.

With the legal framework in place, the Bureau of Land Management then turned over the 5,000 acres it owned in the CMA to airport management. Six years later, the Southern Nevada Public Land Management Act transferred the land titles to the county but otherwise kept the CMA in place. During this time, it literally took an act of Congress to alter any of the restrictions.

In the autumn of 2011, however, the BLM decided to end the CMA, ushering in the Federal Aviation Administration's laxer noise regime.

This was followed last year by the fresh noise study, which found that the area subjected to at least 60 decibels of airliner noise had shrunken considerably as jet engineering has improved. The result comes from a calculation known as the day-night average sound level, or DNL, that gives heavier weight to night flights than day flights. Louder noise is considered fine for factories but not neighborhoods.

Although the new noise zone extends to the north and east of McCarran, the county does not own restricted land there.

Walker said airport management had approached appraisers about setting prices to remove deed restrictions. "They all just sort of scratched their heads and didn't know what to do with it," he said.

At this point, the only benchmark he has is one unidentified landowner who offered $2,000 an acre.

Bill Lenhart, the owner of the brokerage Sunbelt Development & Realty Partners LLC, said appraisers could determine the difference between a parcel's value with and without restrictions.

A floating rate would probably have to be instituted, said Borgel. Restriction removals on land zoned for multi family developments would be worth more than for single-family.

Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at toreiley@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5290.

 

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