In response to controversy surrounding the operations of the Lakeway Airpark, the city of Lakeway in March will organize an Aviation Zoning District Committee consisting of seven members chosen by each council member through volunteer applications. Decisions on committee members are expected to be made at the March 21 council meeting, and the city requests interested parties submit their applications by March 14.

The committee will meet to analyze issues related to public safety; airpark operations; development in and around the airpark zoning district; and other technical issues. The committee will make recommendations to council in response to proposed amendments to the Aviation Zoning District.

“The airpark fully supports the idea of a collaborative approach. Let’s focus on solving the problems,” Lakeway Airpark Inc. President Mike Torbett said at the Feb. 22 City Council meeting. “You have to have people that have complimentary personalities that can work together, and you need people that have experience, and I think we’ve got a wealth of that here in Lakeway, so surely we can find the right group to solve this issue.”

Problems arose in September when Kilgore received a report on ordinance violations dating back to 2016 from representatives of two airpark neighbors, according to a press release from the city. Following this, the city began to closely monitor the activities of the airpark and determined there were several violations of the District Aviation zoning ordinance.

The District Aviation zoning ordinance has undergone several changes since its introduction, with the most recent in 2010. In 2003, the ordinance prohibited commercial operations, including flight instruction, airplane rental and transportation of passengers. The 2010 amendment changed the language of the ordinance to redefine commercial operations as “any business activity established to financially profit” from the provision of services or aircraft operations.

The 2010 amendment caused confusion over what operations were permitted at the airpark, Torbett said in a statement posted to the airpark’s website in February.

“The 2010 ordinance was so flawed the city has termed it ‘not enforceable,’” Torbett said in the statement. “And although the Airpark has been operating just fine over the last 12 years with this nonenforceable ordinance in place, the city has felt the need to change it. A change to fix the problems associated with the ordinance would be welcome by the Airpark.”

Since the airpark is a nonprofit corporation run by members of the Flying Club, operations have continued at the park, including commercial air traffic, primary flight instruction and airplane rentals, according to the city. These operations are prohibited under the 2010 revision, and the “for profit” stipulation included in the revision was a legal error to begin with as the exchange for goods and services is a commercial activity, regardless of whether it is for profit, according to the city.

Additional issues were identified with the use of the airpark between “sundown to sunup,” including Kilgore personally witnessing an aircraft land after sunset, according to the city. The initial report submitted to the city included several years of violation history in regards to sporadic illegal aircraft activity after airpark hours. There are also multiple environmental permits that have lapsed or are missing for the airpark’s fueling operations, according to the city.

To address the situation, the city drafted an update to the 2010 zoning ordinance to explicitly prohibit commercial flights, rentals and primary flight instruction, according to the city. This was initially going to be discussed at the Jan. 5 zoning and planning commission meeting; however, discussion was postponed until Feb. 2 due to unresolved legal questions and again until March 2 due to an omission in the notification process to allow ample time for the community to participate in the process, the city said.

On Jan. 28, a GoFundMe fundraiser was started by organizer Gerry Ward, titled “Help save our Lakeway airpark! (3R9).” The goal of the fundraiser was to raise $100,000 to assist with the legal fees that would be required to fight back against the proposed changes. The fundraiser was disabled on Feb. 6 having raised $17,235 from 52 donors. The fundraiser was instead moved to the airpark’s website with a goal of $25,000, which the website indicated was reached through direct donations.

Since the airpark’s opening to the public in 1995, there has been a history of fatal and nonfatal accidents at and near the airpark, according to the city. In 2004, two pilots and four passengers were killed when a plane crashed into a house immediately after takeoff, according to a report from the National Transportation Safety Board. The most recent incident was in 2019 when a plane crashed off of Lakeway Boulevard while attempting to land following engine stall. The pilot of the plane was undergoing primary flight instruction at the time and was killed, and the flight instructor was seriously injured, according to the National Transportation Safety Board.

“I represent, as do we all, those people outside the airpark who are absorbing the risk of the least qualified pilot who comes here,” Kilgore said. “We owe a duty of protection to those individuals.”

More information on how to volunteer can be found on the city's website.