Aviation housing development takes flight in Sandpoint

Tara Roberts//August 9, 2012//

Aviation housing development takes flight in Sandpoint

Tara Roberts//August 9, 2012//

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A Cessna Citation 501 fits inside the hangar of the model home at the SilverWing fly-in community. The plane has a wingspan of about 53 feet, said developer Mike Mileski. Courtesy of SilverWing.

The homes planned for the SilverWing housing development in Sandpoint don’t have garages; they have airplane hangars.

The 44-lot SilverWing stalled for several years during a dispute over Federal Aviation Administration rules. But its principal owner, Mike Mileski, said he expects sales to start picking up now, saying the dispute is over.

The United States is home to hundreds of housing developments where airplane owners can share a roof with their planes. But SilverWing is one of only a few dozen next to public airports.

Mileski, of Torrance, Calif., began groundwork for SilverWing in 2008. Later that year, the FAA declared Sandpoint Airport non-compliant, due in part to a through-the-fence easement the county granted SilverWing. The easement allows homeowners to reach the Sandpoint Airport runway directly from the development, at the cost of a small annual fee to the county. That violated existing FAA rules, leading to the listing of non-compliance. The listing cut off some of the airport’s FAA funding.

Bonner County, the airport, the FAA, SilverWing and other landowners went over the issue for several years. In February, a federal law was enacted that allows residential through-the-fence agreements under certain terms and conditions.

The FAA now considers Sandpoint Airport in “tentative compliance,” allowing it to receive funding again.

“To get them to change policy on that was really good for us,” Mileski said. “I think we kind of swayed them to understand … this isn’t a single-family residence with kids playing around.”

However, Sandpoint Airport manager Dave Schuck said the future of SilverWing’s access to the airport is not certain.

“I wouldn’t say (the FAA issue) is resolved,” Schuck said. “I would say it is postponed.”

The FAA was scheduled to review its through-the-fence policy in 2014, but instead proposed a policy adjustment July 30. The policy is open for public comment until Aug. 29 and can be found at faa.gov/airports/airport_compliance/residential_through_the_fence/.

Mileski said the policy focuses more on new through-the-fence agreements rather than existing ones, and on commercial airports rather than general aviation airports like Sandpoint, so not all the provisions in the policy will apply to SilverWing. As a general aviation airport, Sandpoint sees no commercial flights, but has a 5,500-foot runway and hosts about 83 aircraft operations per day, according to the airport’s website.

Mileski said he doesn’t yet know if he’ll comment on the proposed policy.

Schuck said being listed as noncompliant forced the airport to delay $5 million worth of projects, including land acquisition and pavement rehabilitation.

He said he does not know if having a residential development next to the airport has any positive effects for the airport. And he added the airport didn’t necessarily have positive effects on the development.

“One of the things that happens … you have noise and dust and fumes,” he said. “Airports are kind of industrial areas. Really the area around them should be light industrial at best.”

SilverWing was allowed to sell and develop during the FAA dispute because it retained its permission to build from the city of Sandpoint.

However, Mileski said, the non-compliance issue had dampened sales.

“How long it took to resolve this is really something that we weren’t too pleased with,” he said.

SilverWing had lots fall out of escrow “just because of the unknown of what (was) going to happen with the FAA,” Mileski said.

The development has not greatly increased its debt, however, because most of the work done thus far has been financed with equity money. The owners invested “well north of $15 million” into sewer systems, streets and a taxiway, Mileski said.

The group also took over the airport’s fixed-based operator, now called SilverWing Flight Services, which sells fuel, offers services such as de-icing, and operates airplane rentals and flight instruction.

“We’re really trying to grow the area there,” Mileski said.

SilverWing has increased its marketing efforts in recent months and has gotten “great inquiries” from potential buyers, Mileski said.

Only one lot at SilverWing has a home on it. It’s duplex that is half model home, half a shell that has been sold. Butt three lots have been sold, and another five are in escrow.

Mileski expects all the lots to be sold in three to five years. Some buyers are purchasing land to use in several years when they are retired, he said.

The SilverWing owners include John McKeown and Mileski’s father, Dave Mileski. They chose the site because the public airport can accommodate some larger jets and because Sandpoint, a resort area, is an attractive location. It’s close to backcountry flying and four-season recreation at Schweitzer Mountain and Lake Pend Oreille.

“Number one, it was actually in a town. There was shopping centers, you could go to a restaurant, you could do a lot of activities,” Mike Mileski said. “A lot of other (fly-in communities) we researched were 50 miles away from anything.”

SilverWing’s lots can accommodate hangars as large as 60 by 70 feet, which can fit a plane with a 58-foot wingspan – and a car as well.

All construction must be approved by an architectural design committee, to keep the appearance of exteriors consistent.

“We’ve got people in here in multi-million dollar houses, and you don’t want a pink hangar next to it,” Mike Mileski said.

Lots at SilverWing run from $99,000 to more than $1.6 million. A basic home, hangar and lot can be developed for about $430,000 Mike Mileski said.

Fly-in communities

Fly-in communities, also known as air parks, are popular around the country with pilots who like the convenience of having their airplane nearby.

Their value has declined, along with that of other real estate, in recent years, said Ben Sclair, publisher of LivingWithYourPlane.com. But there are still more than 635 airparks, which his publication defines as “two or more homesites with legal access to a shared, common runway,” worldwide.

The largest is Spruce Creek Fly-In in Florida, which has more than 800 homes and has famous residents including John Travolta. Living WithYourPlane.com lists 13 airparks in Idaho, though most are smaller than SilverWing and are on private runways.

The size of the airstrip varies, but a 2,500 airstrip should accommodate most general aviation, including two or four-seat planes, said Stacy Budell, a real estate broker, pilot, and flight instructor who works out of an office at the Caldwell Airport. Many airstrips are much smaller than that, said Budell.

Sclair said air parks save airplane owners money, because renting hangar space can cost hundreds of dollars a month or more.

“Being able to wake up in the morning, look out the window and say, ‘I’m going to go flying,’ ” is attractive to plane owners, Sclair said.

But Budell said convenience is the biggest draw.

“It’s no different from jumping in your car and going someplace,” Budell said. “It’s so much handier.”

Mike Mileski said home values haven’t declined at communities like SilverWing.

“It’s a lot of a smaller niche of people that you’re looking for,” he said.