Since her husband's death nearly nine years ago, Louise Dougherty said, it has been a struggle to keep Windcrest, her 25-acre horse farm in Clarksburg, Md., where grand prix jumpers from all over the world are trained.
But now a proposal to build an airport and industrial park amid the valleys and park land near her farm has created a new battle for the petite, 60-year-old woman.
"You know, none of us are against progress," said Dougherty, who has joined dozens of her neighbors to fight the plan. "I just hate to see happen here what's happened at the current county-owned airport. It's gone all commercial and all that noise. It would be hard to train these precision horses with planes flying overhead."
Yet some Montgomery County officials and developers in favor of the development cite projections, compiled by a special task force, that private air traffic in the county will increase 31 percent during the next decade. And they argue that the proposal for a new air park to accommodate more and larger private planes will help attract high-technology industry, especially companies that would like to have an airfield nearby for their corporate jets.
"Growth is inevitable. You might as well do it realistically," said Robert Eisinger, one of the two developers interested in building the air park. "Everything Dougherty wants is going to disappear over a period of time, but it should be planned well."
The deliberations on the airport touch matters far beyond general aviation. They encompass the issues of growth in the county, including its ability to attract high-technology industries, the future mix of residential and commercial development, and the role the county should play in entrepreneurial activities.
The issue moved to the Montgomery County Council last week, beginning what both sides said could be a long debate. The Airpark Assessment Task Force, appointed by the council 10 months ago, formally recommended to the council on Tuesday that the county take control of the two existing airports and build a new one to accommodate corporate air traffic.
The task force made no specific recommendation for the location of the new air park, but it highlighted the proposals of the two developers to build it in the Clarksburg area, along with an industrial park.
The council has not acted on the recommendation.
Air traffic in Montgomery County is limited to general aviation planes, such as small single- and twin-engine aircraft and business turboprops, the report said. The county, which is home to 664 pilots and 332 small airplanes, currently supports two airfields -- the county-owned Montgomery County Air Park near Gaithersburg and the smaller, private Davis Airport near Damascus.
In addition to building the new airport, the task force report recommended that the county renovate Montgomery County Air Park and end the current leasing arrangement so that it can control the airport's operations. It also called for the county to take control of Davis Airport.
The prospect of a new airport and industrial park creates the need for an accelerated review of the county master plan, at least for the Clarksburg area and perhaps for the entire northern area of the county, according to some developers and government officials.
Eisinger said that he is sensitive to the concerns of Clarksburg residents and that he plans to meet with them next month to detail his proposal. "In fact, if they don't enter into a discussion of the master plan, they're going to end up in a situation where their future is going to be more than likely dictated by the Park and Planning Commission," Eisinger said.
An airport, with a surrounding industrial park, is needed in the upper county to create an employment base and to supplement the tax base so that homeowners will not have to pay a disproportionate share of the cost of services, Eisinger said.
The 332 airplanes based at Montgomery's two airports took off or landed an estimated 137,000 times in 1982, the latest year for which figures are available, according to an official of the Maryland Department of Transportation's State Aviation Administration. The official estimated that by 1990 the numbers will increase to 350 planes and 184,100 takeoffs or landings, and that by the year 2000 there will be 444 planes and 232,000 takeoffs or landings.
In comparison, the Manassas Municipal Airport has 300 small aircraft that take off or land an estimated 105,173 times each year, according to the Virginia Department of Aviation.
"As a pilot . . . I see no need of another airport over there," said Kenneth Allen, a 43-year-old free-lance writer and flight instructor who said he flies single- and twin-engine aircraft.
"However, if you're talking about putting in an airport to accommodate bigger equipment such as jets, you would have to improve the existing airport before any corporate pilot would be eager to use it," he added.
Richard Bartel, a task force member and president of Flight Resources Inc., which operates the Montgomery Air Park, said the county's air traffic needs can be met by expanding Davis and improving the Gaithersburg facility.
"This airport, with improvements, plus the Davis Airport, is sufficient to meet the demonstrated need. But if you don't expand the Davis Airport, you're going to need another airport along I-270," he said.
But another pilot disagreed. "From the air, that Montgomery Air Park sort of looks like a beehive with little bees flying all around it -- it's a mess," said Dr. David Mast, a Washington dentist who kept his plane there until he sold it last August. "It's not only crowded, it's dangerous."
In the past dozen years, 13 planes have crashed near the Montgomery Air Park, according to the task force report, which warned that a larger tragedy may occur as more houses are built around both airports, where safety buffer zones have not been preserved.
"That's why we need a new air park, to see that we do it right this time," Council President William Hanna Jr. said at the council meeting, adding that a new park would be designed with safety, traffic and noise control measures.
Esther Gelman, a council member who is running for Congress, questioned whether the noise could be controlled and noted problems caused by Dulles International and National airports.
"People feel as though their lives are being worn down by the incessant noise" of airplanes, she said to applause from Clarksburg residents who jammed the council chambers Tuesday and alternately cheered and booed the discussion.
But Hanna, a chief supporter of recruiting high-tech industry to the county, disagreed. "There is a huge difference between the type of aircraft and the noise the citizens are complaining about -- we are talking different dimensions here," he replied.
Jerry Korpeck -- a Silver Spring lawyer who represents Old Clarksburg Joint Ventures, which wants to develop the airport and industrial park -- said, "No one wants a sludge heap or a prison or an airport in their neighborhood, but it's the price we have to pay to live in an organized society."
For Clarksburg residents, the issue is the quality of their lives.
"Clarksburg is one place where you walk out your door in the evening and you hear silence, where you can wake up in the morning and hear the singing of a hundred birds," said 39-year-old Harvey Sadow, who said he traveled 40,000 miles of country roads looking for the perfect location for his home and finally settled on a 70-year-old farmhouse in Clarksburg, nestled against an acre of woods and orchards near Sugar Loaf Mountain.
What riles Sadow, Dougherty and other residents of the area is their feeling that county officials are not listening to them. "Nobody's come out to survey Clarksburg to see how many of us want an airport," said Jay Cinque, president of the Sugar Loaf Citizens Association.
"You can't stop progress, but you can keep a few planes from destroying the peace," Sadow said. "You have to preserve places like Clarksburg in America or you have nothing."