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Wed, Oct 10, 2007

SoCal Glider Pilots Eye New UC Dorm With Trepidation

Say Building Will Interfere With Approach

Glider pilots and enthusiasts fear they may lose one of the most storied launch sites in the continental United States.

San Diego's Torrey Pines glider port (CA84) -- located on bluffs overseeing the Pacific Ocean, and one of only two flight areas in the country listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- may soon be rendered useless by a high-rise dorm building being built to house students attending the University of California San Diego.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports pilots are concerned the planned 14-story structure will render the launch site unsafe, and unusable. So far, UCSD officials have refused to move the building; university leaders broke ground on the structure earlier this month.

"It's truly a national treasure, and it's being stolen from us," said Bruce Coons of the Save Our Heritage Organization.

Once a haven for glider pilots, with as many as 10 glider ports... today Southern California hosts but one; all others but Torrey Pines have disappeared to urban sprawl.

UCSD officials maintain pilots' unconcerns about the dorm are unfounded... and anyway, it's too late to change locations.

"It's a little late in the process to be moving the project site," said Milton Phegley, UCSD's director of community planning. "Since the project is not going to have an impact on the glider port, moving it to the east would be of no value."

Torrey Pines is also used by hang glider pilots, paragliders, and radio-controlled aircraft... but glider pilots will be affected most by the building, opponents say, since it will be in the path of the preferred landing approach to runway 27 when the winds gust higher than 20 knots.

Members of The Associated Glider Clubs of Southern California have appealed to lawmakers, including Congressman Bob Filner, and historic preservation groups to persuade UCSD officials to reconsider the building. Gilder port supporters say the university mishandled the approval process for the dorm, and under-reported glider port activities to the Board of Regents and to the California Coastal Commission.

"There was no participation or input from people who are affected by this," said David Jebb, who has operated the Torrey Pines Gliderport since 1996, according to the Union-Tribune.

College officials reply an environmental impact study was conducted in 2004, and found the dorm would not impact operations at the gilder port significantly.

"No new issues were raised that were not already addressed" in earlier documents, planners wrote in the report submitted to the Board of Regents for approval. The new housing "would not disrupt an existing flight path," the summary added.

However, another sentence in the report flies in the face of those statements. It says the dorm tower "would be a major new incursion that could preclude a permitted approach to the gliderport from the east."

Phegley is quick to explain the apparent contradiction. "That sentence should not be read as a stand-alone sentence," he says. "The project will not affect the operations of the glider port and it certainly doesn't affect the historic designation."

Architect M. Wayne Donaldson, state historic preservation officer since 2004, says the university ignored concerns about the dorm's impact.

"They have to consult with us; they certainly don't have to follow our opinion," Donaldson said. “The university has done that, but they really don't care what we think."




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