Common Ground

Though they are only miles apart, East McKinney and the town of Fairview are opposite in nearly every way except one: Neither community wants more airplanes flying overhead. Residents from both places have joined forces in a bitter fight against a proposed $67 million expansion of the McKinney airport.

Fairview is a quiet bedroom town of 3,000 stuck between the commercial hub in Allen and the cramped, master-planned communities in McKinney. "Keeping it country" is the town's slogan, though it's a well-heeled sort of country life. Not far from pastures where horses graze and farmers raise wheat are million-dollar homes on three-acre lots. The town is a "little oasis," as Mayor Don Phillips puts it.

East McKinney, which sits at the tip of the airport runway, isn't. The home of auto salvage yards and trailer parks, East McKinney is working class or poorer, and the homes there are surrounded by yellowed grass, old tires, and stripped-down cars.

Sandwiched between the two is McKinney Municipal Airport, a small facility that serves both corporate jets and other light aircraft. The city of McKinney wants to build a new 8,000-foot runway that would increase air traffic and help relieve the crush of flights into Love Field and DFW International Airport. The expanded airport would house a U.S. Customs checkpoint that would allow international corporate travel.

Nearby residents see the airport as a sometimes-noisy nuisance today. McKinney leaders see it as an opportunity to further stimulate the growth that is quickly changing McKinney from a country town to a thriving Dallas suburb. They want to expand the airport over the next 20 years with a Federal Aviation Administration grant that will help pay for road development and maintenance, the new runway, and additional buildings for various aviation-related businesses. According to engineers hired by Fairview, who have nicknamed the airport Love Field North, the 8,000-foot runway could be used for commercial aircraft and large cargo planes. A new road would cut through the middle of Fairview to U.S. 75.

Airport manager David Pearce says there are no plans to turn McKinney's airport into a commercial facility like Love Field. The goal is to draw corporate business, stimulate commerce around the airport, and provide thousands of jobs to the community.

"We never wanted to be a Dallas Love Field North," Pearce says. "Frankly, I'm a little confused, because I have no idea where that rumor came from."

Fairview, however, doesn't especially want any more commerce in their little "oasis," and they're not being polite about it. The city has launched a damning Web site at www.mckinneyairport.com that claims the airport would be an international hub designed to compete with Love, DFW, and Alliance Airport in Fort Worth. McKinney Municipal Airport has always lost money, the site alleges, and its expansion would lead to uncontrolled air and ground traffic and untold pollution.

"All the info is true. We just flushed them out," Phillips says. The town hired engineers to examine the airport and proposed expansion. Fairview also has paid for several billboards advertising their "Community Need or Economic Greed?" slogan and mailed glossy fliers to McKinney and neighboring residents directing them to the Web site. The Fairview town council also arranged a six-month contract to show anti-airport advertisements at local movie theaters, though theater owners later canceled the contract without explanation.

Although East McKinney doesn't have the resources to assemble such an impressive anti-airport campaign, it does have people who are willing to devote time to the cause.

Among them is Gilda Garza, vice-president of the McKinney chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, who lives in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood near the airport. Her 4-year-old grandson used to be frightened by the roar of planes that take off or land at the airport about 50 times each day.

"On the weekends, the planes start at 7 in the morning and don't stop until 9 p.m.," Garza says. "These planes are so loud they literally shake the windows."

Another east-side resident, Olympia Ugarte, called the police because the airport noise was so loud. "These planes fly so low, you can read the letters and numbers on the bottom of the plane," Ugarte says. McKinney police told her if she could see the letters and numbers, the plane was flying too low and to call back if any more fly overhead at that altitude.

Opponents in East McKinney have organized town hall meetings for residents and neighboring communities. They plan to walk the neighborhood, knocking on residents' doors in the hope of igniting more people into action.

Meanwhile, McKinney city leaders plow ahead with the expansion, assuming their residents are behind it. Airport manager Pearce insists, "I know our residents are behind the expansion because they re-elected the leaders who supported it in the first place."

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