HAMMONTON - Town Council is taking first steps in a multi-year plan to expand Hammonton Municipal Airport

The airport is not looking to handle larger planes, just a larger number of small aircraft of the single-owner, hobby type, said town Business Administrator Jerry Barberio.

Monday night council unanimously adopted an ordinance to change the zoning of Lots 1-6 in Block 5702 around the airport from agricultural/light industry to strictly agricultural.

The zoning-change is a requirement of the Pinelands Commission, in order for it to allow the airport expansion, said Mayor Steve DiDonato.

"In effect (the Pinelands Commission) said, 'If you want to expand in Area A, you have to restrict Area B,'" DiDonato said.

None of the landowners objected to the zoning change at a March meeting held to discuss it, and none opposed it Monday night.

DiDonato said the expansion, which would include a second taxiway and t-hangars to house small private planes, will cost about $5 million. The Federal Aviation Administration has already said it will fund 95 percent of the cost, he said, leaving the town to pay about $250,000.

The town wants the airport to become home base for about 50 small private planes, compared to about 25 now, said Town Business Administrator Jerry Barberio.

"When people spend $150,000 to $200,000 for an airplane, they have to put it someplace," Barberio said. "They can't put it in their backyard."

There is a lot of interest in the airport by pilots, who recognize it is easy to get into and out of, because it is in a rural area with little vehicle traffic, said DiDonato.

"We've been told if we had more inside space, more plane owners would be there," DiDonato said. "They don't just want outside tie-downs. They want to keep their planes sheltered out of the weather."

The improvements are likely to be done in stages, DiDonato said.

"There is a five-year plan that gets processed and submitted to the FAA," Barberio said. "This year we're doing obstruction and master plan work. In subsequent years, we'll do the second taxiway improvements."

The plan is updated every year, and "keeps you moving forward," Barberio said. He said some of the improvements may be completed in five years, but he doesn't expect all to be.

"The FAA requires a lot of study and reports before we can do anything," he said. "It's also driven by the economy."

The next step will be to get the town engineer to work on layouts, and start working on FAA grants, DiDonato said.

"We have to get in the budget cycles with FAA, which funds in cycles," he said. "They may fund the road into the hangars in year one, and in year two may fund the foundation for hangars. It gets done over several years."

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