The ongoing saga between the City of Guntersville and Ace Aero added a chapter at last week’s City Council meeting when the Council voted 7-1 to ask Ace to annex property into the city.
Ace, which does aviation upgrades to Blackhawk helicopters and other aircraft, has its main facility on airport property, which is in the city limits.
But it also owns property adjoining the airport that is in the county rather than the city. This is what the Council, at the urging of Councilman Randy Whitaker, asked Ace to annex.
Councilman Larry Wilson said he felt the request was ill-timed as the Council and Ace have been trying to resolve an issue on access to the airport from Ace’s property outside the airport. A recommendation on that issue just went to the Federal Aviation Administration for consideration.
Councilman Whitaker has contended that the current issue with the “through the fence” agreement involving Ace could have been avoided entirely had the property been in the city limits to begin with. He said Ace would’ve had to go before the Planning Commission to get a site plan approval and the problem could’ve been avoided at that time.
Generally speaking, the FAA frowns upon “through the fence” agreements from private property onto an airfield. The insinuation in this particular instance is that Ace built outside the airfield on its own property before getting the proper permissions for a through-the-fence agreement.
The proposed settlement of the case that has been sent to the FAA calls for Ace to convey its developed property to the city and the city would then lease it back to them, in effect making it part of the airport.
But Councilman Whitaker wants to make sure nothing like this happens again.
“I want the city to send a letter to Ace requesting that they annex their property into the city,” Councilman Whitaker said.
Councilman Carson Ray seconded the motion.
Councilman Wilson had a prepared statement that he read. Ace and the airport are in his Council district and there are Ace employees who live in his district.
“I think it unwise to request the annexation of the Ace Marshall County property, which is separate from the airport conveyance and leaseback deal,” Councilman Wilson said. “We are in the middle of negotiating the deal with the FAA. This past Friday, both Ace and the city agreed to forward a deal to the FAA that did not include annexation of additional property. The proposed resolution to annex the Ace property is an attempt to distance the annexation request from the airport deal (to make it seem unrelated), since the FAA would not condone the annexation as part of the deal.
“The trouble is the City Council has already tied the annexation of the property to the deal during two separate public City Council meetings. In April the motive was additional tax dollars. Currently the motive is future issues of compliance.
“Ace has already told the city they are not interested in annexation at this time. Having the property is worth more to Ace in the county.
"The city never requested annexation from the previous landowners. And the city could have bought the property outright.
“This is not the way to attract business partners to the city. The city is good for Ace, and Ace is good for the city. The proposed resolution is a bad business practice that reflects poorly on the city leadership,” he concluded.
Councilman Whitaker said it is just a request and he felt it was something the city should do. In a roll call vote, his motion passed 7-1, with Councilman Wilson as the lone no vote.
Ace business development vice-president Hans Ingold issued his own statement following the Council meeting.
“I found the motion a bit dubious as Ace has already stated that, in the future, we will annex into the city, any land that we use for aeronautical purposes. “Furthermore, we will use city building codes for those buildings. While the Council says that the motion is separate from the sale/leaseback deal currently at the FAA; the question is what is the recourse if Ace does not annex its county land now? If the answer is that the city does not approve the sale/leaseback deal; then they are clearly tied together, which is contrary to FAA regulations.”