|By Stacie Hamel, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Nov. 18, 2004 - Developers of a proposed $50 million hotel in La Vista would have to lop off a third of the design's height to fit under the Federal Aviation Administration's airspace restrictions around the Millard Airport.
The FAA has ruled that the 10-story hotel would create a hazard for aircraft trying to land.
Developer John Q. Hammons' proposed Embassy Suites Hotel near 126th and Harrison Streets would be, at 120 feet, 39 feet too high, according to the FAA.
Hammons is developing the 280- to 300-room hotel in partnership with a planned $15 million conference center to be owned by the City of La Vista. The site is just off Interstate 80 and less than a mile from the small airport operated by the Omaha Airport Authority.
The FAA ruling became final Nov. 7. Hammons did not respond to the FAA after the agency sent notice in July that the hazard was presumed, and he did not appeal the hazard ruling issued in September, according to the FAA document.
Hammons and other representatives of his company in Springfield, Mo., could not immediately be reached for comment.
As far as the 10-story design, "There really isn't a next step," said Elizabeth Wallis, manager of the FAA airspace branch. "It's a final determination."
The agency did not ask for public comment regarding the ruling because there was no question, she said.
"It flat out was a hazard," Wallis said. "If we can make a determination of hazard without having public comment, we just go ahead and make the determination."
Structures within the air traffic pattern could affect navigation or distract a pilot, according to the ruling.
The hotel would create a "substantial adverse effect" on pilots using visual flight rules -- rather than instruments -- to land on one of the airport's two runways, the ruling stated. About 142 aircraft are based at the airport, and a majority of the airport's daily takeoffs and landings are done under visual flight rules, the document indicated.
La Vista's city administrator voiced optimism that the hotel design can be modified to fit FAA regulations.
"I don't see this as a hurdle that isn't surmountable," said Cara Pavlicek. "This is a piece of any development project that you work through."
The city is prepared for ongoing discussions about how the project can be completed, she said.
The hotel-conference center site is in Southport West, a high-profile development that La Vista officials aggressively have sought to fill.
The City of La Vista plans to contribute $18 million toward the hotel's cost and to finance the conference center and parking area with a $15 million bond issue.
The plan called for Hammons to buy 15 acres at Southport West and sell 12 of them to the city for $3 million for the conference center. He would finance, build, own and operate the hotel and would operate the conference center, paying the city $300,000 per year.
Don Smithey, executive director of the Omaha Airport Authority, said the authority ordered an airspace analysis of the hotel site in March after learning of the development.
The study results were given that month to Hammons' engineering consultants and the Southport developer, as well as La Vista city officials, Smithey said.
He said there should be no question that air space is under federal regulation.
"We do not have to buy air space rights," he said. "That's federal law."
Planning a tall structure requires filing a form with the FAA so the agency can determine whether it will interfere with air traffic patterns.
"Even if we, the airport authority, want to put up a light pole, we have to get the FAA's approval," he said.
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