John and Annette Powell have lived in the same house for 47 years. When John and Annette were married in 1966, John asked his parents for an acre of land on the family’s property, took out a loan from a downtown McKinney bank that has long since closed and built the home that he and Annette have shared since their wedding day.
The Powell family has owned the 75 acres off of Old Mill Road since 1928. John has lived on his family’s land for more than 70 years. John and Annette raised two children in that house and had planned to spend the rest of their lives on their land. They were going to retire and build a new house deep in their property on a hill overlooking Wilson Creek. Their plan changed on July 26, 2012.
That was the day that Collin County Regional Airport opened its new 7,000-foot runway. The Powell’s home is located at the northern tip of the Powell family land on Old Mill Road. Their land extends south down to Wilson Creek. The land is the type of farmland that is becoming rare in McKinney. A trip to their house is a trip back in time. Steps on their land are steps into the past.
From their front porch, it’s a stone’s throw to FM 546. And just beyond that is the southern boundary of what is now known as McKinney National Airport. Their house is roughly 1,000 feet from the south end of the runway.
When the airport’s new runway opened, it put the Powells’ house directly in the flight path for every single plane that takes off or lands on the south end of the runway. Every day and many nights, the Powells are subjected to dozens (and sometimes hundreds) of extremely low-altitude flyovers from planes of all sizes. In many cases, the planes are no more than 100 feet above the Powells’ house.
There is no house closer to the airport than the Powells’. On the north end of the runway, there isn’t a house on the flight path for more than two miles. By comparison, there isn’t a house within two miles in either direction of the flight path for Addison Airport, which has a 7,200-foot runway.
The Powells remember when the airport opened in 1979. Back then it was called McKinney Municipal Airport. They say the airport noise didn’t bother them then or really any time up until the runway was moved. “There was some annoyance, but it was tolerable,” John Powell says, speaking of the airport’s old runway configuration.
“Now, we might go 30 minutes (between flyovers) but it might be every five minutes or any time of night,” John says. “You can’t predict when it’s going to happen. Sunday mornings are the worst.”
The noise is loud enough to drown out their television and they’ve given up trying to do anything outside. In fact, as the Powells were explaining their situation to TownSquareBuzz.com, a flyover interrupted and halted the conversation 21 separate times in a 90-minute period.
“That hurts my head,” Annette says as another plane flies over their house.
It affects our property and it’s a serious hazard,” John says. “You can’t get used to it. We can’t do the things that we used to do. It’s changed our entire lifestyle.”
The Powells say it’s not just the noise that worries them. With hundreds of planes flying over their property, some no more than 100 feet above their house, they’re concerned for their safety.
“Nothing’s hit them yet,” says T.J. Lane, an attorney representing the family. “But they’re playing with fire. It’s more than an inconvenience. It’s not if something is going to hit the Powells, it’s when.”
John has become quite the expert in aviation in the last year. He can talk about a plane’s glide slope and when a plane might stall. He spends much of his free time in front of his house, taking pictures and videos of the repeated close calls as planes fly over their house.
“There’s an 80- to 90-foot drop behind our house, down to Wilson Creek,” John says. “It’s an optical illusion for these pilots when they’re landing. The land seems to be rising up even faster than they’re descending. I hear planes powering back up when they land. And I’ve heard plenty of planes stall out as they approach.
“And it takes over 100 feet recover from a stall. The glide slope is so shallow that they’re basically 100 feet from the top of our house. And with that many flyovers every day, something bad is bound to happen, sooner or later. ”
The Powells say they have no other option than to try to sell the house they’ve lived in since before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon and give up the land that’s been in John’s family since before the Great Depression.
There’s just one problem with their plan to sell. “No one else wants to live under these conditions,” says Lane. “The land is unfit for habitation and unmarketable. The City of McKinney is the only potential buyer.”
Lane says he’s reached out the city on behalf of the Powells in an attempt to engage the city in negotiations for the Powell’s land. Those negotiations have been unsuccessful thus far. “There never seems to be a shortage of money when it comes to something they (the city) want to do,” Lane says. “The Powell family is warehousing this land and the city can wait to buy it whenever they see fit.”
Lane predicts that the city will continue to expand the airport, especially now that the city owns and operates the airport. “They’re going to expand that runway again,” he says. “And where is it going to go? Right into the Powells’ land. That’s where.”
Lane says the city did hire an appraiser to evaluate his clients’ land. Lane says that the report from the city’s appraiser said the land was worth 35 cents per square foot. Lane says he’s researched other recent land purchases around the airport and the average price per square foot of those transactions was $2.35.
Lane says that even though the city hired the appraiser, “the city has expressed no desire to buy the land, not even at 35 cents per square foot.” Lane says he thinks the city is just going to wait out the Powell’s until they are willing to “give up and move, sell out real cheap, or die.”
Lane says the Powell’s are hoping to get $2 per square foot for their land. “They deserve the same consideration as anyone else that’s affected by the airport,” he says.
The Powells say that they don’t want to sell the land but feel like they have no other choice. They’ve reached out to the management at McKinney National Airport, they’ve filed complaints with the FAA, and they’ve spoken at city council meetings. “It’s just like we don’t exist,” John says.
And now that the city is in total control of the airport, the Powells say they are trying to find a common ground with the city. “They say the airport is valuable to the city,” John says. “We just want what’s commensurate with what they’re paying for other pieces of land out here. When they decide to be reasonable, we’ll be out of their hair. We’re not going to sell out. We were here first.”
The Powell’s were planning to retire on the land and build a new house further back on the land on a hill overlooking Wilson Creek. “We had planned to live here the rest of our lives,” John says. “They’ve taken that option away from us.”
They say they don’t want to stay in McKinney once they sell the land. “We’ll relocate to the Hill Country,” John says. “But we’re going to do some research to make sure no planes fly anywhere near there.”