As many as three-quarters of the businesses that lease space at Manassas Regional Airport are operating without a lease agreement with the city, and many of them may not meet the minimum standards that could soon be imposed by the Manassas City Council, council members were told at a work session this week.
Airport Manager Bruce Lawson told council members Wednesday that if the airport's proposed minimum standards are approved, about 11 of the 18 businesses will be forced to vacate because the standards call for a contract between each business and the city. However, a two-year interim period with higher monthly fees, followed by an additional year if the business were to make an effort to meet the standards, would be offered.
A draft of the proposed minimum standards, rules and regulations and operating permits, which are the criteria that businesses that want to operate at the airport must meet, were discussed Wednesday at the latest of a series of meetings.
Under the minimum standards being drafted, participating businesses--such as aircraft fueling companies, aircraft repair services and aircraft rental and flight training services--would have to show evidence of financial stability and good credit; maintain a base level of insurance and liability coverage; and comply with safety, health and sanitation codes, among other requirements. No such standards have been in place at the airport.
Although the Federal Aviation Administration does not require such standards at airports, they are strongly recommended, Lawson said.
"It's in the city's best interest to have these in place," Lawson said, adding that minimum standards are established partly to ensure that airports "don't get into problems of exclusivity and discrimination."
Lawson said that although some litigation might result from contract and lease disputes, the minimum standards would solve more problems than they would create. But council members still expressed concern over possible lawsuits.
"We want to do this as right as we can, because the airport is a very important economic tool that the city has," said Harry J. "Hal" Parrish II. "We need to understand what potential there is for lawsuits."
Parrish suggested that the Airport Commission provide more details on the standards, including the effect the requirements would have on businesses already operating at the airport.
Before the council can vote on the standards, comments from tenants, consideration of approval from the Airport Commission and a public hearing must take place.
In other business Wednesday, the council voted to give the Mexico Lindo restaurant 30 days to significantly lower its noise level or it will lose its annual dance permit. The restaurant has been the subject of hundreds of complaints regarding loud music, drug use and alcohol-related brawls for nearly three years.
Since early 1997, more than 360 complaints have been filed against the restaurant at 9920 Crockwell Rd., and more than 200 police hours have been required to respond to the complaints. Of the complaints, 41 were for public intoxication, and 11 were for patrons driving under the influence of alcohol. Police records also detail 78 complaints of loud music as well as 30 counts of narcotics violations and 23 counts of verbal and physical fights at or near the restaurant.
But, according to Mike Vanderpool, an attorney for Mexico Lindo, many of the calls were made by the restaurant's own security officers after fights erupted and narcotics were spotted, illustrating the owner's effort to calm the disturbances and noise at his establishment.
"It takes courage to do that because at other places, if you do that you can get shot," said Felix Vargas, owner of Mexico Lindo.
Vargas told the council that he is willing to do anything to keep the dance permit, even if it means cutting operation hours and limiting dance music to Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
Vargas also said he is willing to hire a noise technician, increase security in the parking lots and distribute fliers to patrons letting them know what must be done.
In April, while reviewing the renewal of several annual dance permit contracts, council member J. Steven Randolph (I) expressed concern about the number of calls the Police Department had received about Mexico Lindo. Chief of Police John J. Skinner told council members that the restaurant is under new ownership and that new security has been hired, adding that the new owner has "indicated his strong desire to be a responsible business and good neighbor."
Although Vargas said previously that he planned to close the restaurant at year's end, the city's Hispanic community has expressed concerns, saying that it is an important source of entertainment. Vargas said he now hopes, if all goes well, to move the restaurant to a commercial strip in town.
But Randolph expressed uncertainty about Vargas's stated willingness to improve his business.
"What has happened over the last six months?" he asked council members and Vanderpool. "Did he not meet with police? Did he not make promises? And can we trust him to keep his promises now?"
Vargas, who kept his head low, just nodded. "I'll try as best as I can."