Row after row of stucco and red-tiled homes popping up in south Chandler may put new demands on the Chandler Municipal Airport, which once enjoyed stretches of empty space and a few farm homes as its only neighbors.
In the last two years, noise complaints from area residents increased from three a month to 10 a month, said Greg Chenoweth, the airport manager. That's still far behind other airports already surrounded by homes, but it may be indicative of what's to come.
"It's inevitable around a growing metro area," Chenoweth said. "As more and more people come in, it's just more and more of a job."
New neighbors mean the airport has an obligation to keep them informed and work with their concerns, said Andy Quirk, who moved to the northeast corner of Chandler Heights and Cooper roads about a year ago. He said the airport hasn't shown him that courtesy.
Before buying his house, Quirk, a pilot, read material the airport gives potential home-buyers about its operations and visited the neighborhood at different times to judge the noise for himself. He found it quiet.
Two months after he moved into his home, Quirk said he began to see many planes and helicopters flying along Cooper Road at 500 feet and higher.
"They're very noisy. They're low and slow," Quirk said. "At times you can't talk outside."
He said his neighbors had the same concerns, so he wrote to the mayor and City Council and talked to airport officials, seeking relief. He found Cooper Road is often used by aircraft from the Chandler airport. The airport should have told him that before he bought the home, Quirk said.
"They really should've made that public," Quirk said. "You need to be more specific on what you're trying to do with this airport and the traffic."
Unlike Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, the Chandler airport doesn't have set flight paths, Chenoweth said. And Cooper Road happens to be in a good area for safely flying into and out of the airport, Chenoweth said.
An airport plan from 1998 shows Cooper Road as one of a few busy traffic tracks, Chenoweth said, but he added the airport doesn't tell the public that unless they ask specifically.
"Why would I? (Aircraft) come from everywhere," Chenoweth said. Instead, the public is told that they should expect aircraft in their area if they live close to the airport.
In the meantime, airport officials are trying to make sure no one lives too close to the airport. City plans allow mostly for commercial or industrial development only in the nine square miles surrounding the airport — also known as the Chandler Airpark. If there is an exception, homebuilders are required to post maps and extensively explain impacts from the airport to potential buyers, Chenoweth said.
It's not just a matter of protecting the quality of life in neighborhoods. City planners have said as many as 68,000 jobs could come to Chandler with development in the airpark.
Peter Hemingway, chairman of the Chandler Airport Commission, said his group keeps tabs on new residential developments, making sure they're not encroaching on the airport and that builders are upfront with their customers.
"People need to understand the airport's going to be there," Hemingway said. "It's a vital entity. It provides positive economic impact to the city."
Already, the airport is the 62nd busiest in the nation, Chenoweth said, and continued growth in daily takeoffs is predicted. Different government groups have predicted the airport's operations will increase from 22 percent to more than double its current numbers — about 232,000 yearly takeoffs and landings.
As far as making the air traffic more palatable for neighbors, the best the airport can do is talk to pilots, Chenoweth said. He said those who fly over Cooper Road have been asked to try other routes and to fly about 200 feet higher.
Some residents, however, said the air traffic isn't a problem.
"Sometimes I see five or six helicopters in 10 to 15 minutes," said LaVerne Keller, 54, who lives in the Cooper and Chandler Heights roads area. "Nothing you can't accommodate . . . sometimes it's a nuisance. It's nice and quiet as far as the residents."