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Palomar Airstrip


So the members paved an airstrip, erected a grid of shade structures and work benches, and started flying, said Hill, the club’s current president.

Meanwhile, Pappas spent much of the last decade proposing an ever-evolving combination of “mixed-use” subdivisions for those 90 acres —- plans which were tarred and feathered back in 2005 along with the other two commercial developments that were collectively vilified as the “Three P’s.”

In last week’s column, I reflected on the beginning stages of the work that will transform southeast Fallbrook —- and on the furor that has all but dried up since those rowdy planning group meetings six and seven years ago.

All this time, the Palomar R/C Flyers have kept an ear to the proceedings, knowing that the fate of Johnson Field is tied to the fortunes of their corporate host. Out of four developers with claims to that pristine land, Pappas is the last one awaiting approval.

Hill said the club stays informed through a contact at Pappas, which has indicated it will be two to five years before the club is displaced by earthmovers and cement trucks.

“If it’s two years, we need to be finding a new field right away. It’s going to take us a lot of time to develop a new field,” he said. “Not only that —- the cost of building a new field is substantial … and we’re not a wealthy club, by any means.”

The way Hill sees it, Palomar has two potential new homes on the horizon. The first depends on the county’s efforts to establish a sprawling open space preserve along a nine-mile stretch of the San Luis Rey River.

According to the river park’s master plan, 1,600 acres of open space will encompass several “active recreational amenities” —- land-use language for things such as soccer fields and a model airplane runway.

“If the county would support an R/C park, that would be a really neat thing, because it could be available to all the clubs in the area, to all the people who are interested in flying,” Hill told me.

However, due to likely noise and space restrictions, a river park airstrip may not be a permanent fit for the Palomar club’s 200 members.

For that, Hill looks east, to Gregory Canyon, where a fiercely contested landfill proposal has seemingly been within a permit of breaking ground for decades.

To offset the environmental impacts of a solid waste dump, regulators have required thousands of acres be left as open space at the mouth of the canyon —- more than enough room for a couple hundred model airplane enthusiasts to spread their wings.

“Who’s to say what’s going to happen out there? That’s been in litigation for 20 years,” Hill said. “(But) they’ve been receptive to my suggestion that we might have a field out there.

“That would be an ideal place for a flying field, because there’s no residential (housing) around there,” he added. “We wouldn’t bother anybody.”

Hill concedes that any move away from Johnson Field will be a letdown.

“Look at how pristine it is out here,” he prodded with regret in his voice. “It’s so beautiful. I mean, this is just a lovely spot for us. It’s just nice to be out here. We are so fortunate to have this field, and we’ve been so thankful to the Pappas (Investment) Corporation, because they’ve been very, very gracious to let us use this land.”

Not everyone is saddened by the thought of the club’s departure: Across the freeway, some of the homeowners at Pala Mesa Villas have raised complaints about the buzzing of gas-powered airplanes that they say can be heard above the hum of traffic on the interstate.

“Twelve hours of that —- oh, man, it’s something else,” said Rich Dillon, a Villas resident of 23 years that described himself as “somebody who’s tired of listening to the noise all these years.”

“You can hear (the model airplanes) above anything. The gardeners go by with their weed blowers and I can still hear them,” Dillon told me. “I think this area in here is kind of like an amphitheater, because the noise really travels. People’s voices, coyotes, everything.”

Eventually, a different kind of noise will descend around Johnson Field, and the Palomar R/C Flyers will join the likes of the Fallbrook R/C Flyers, whose “Bonsall International Airport” was recently paved over by the state Transportation Department.

As Hill and I spoke on a picture-perfect afternoon, the Palomar College road crews continued their work nearby.

“Of course we see it —- the writing’s on the wall,” Hill told me. “Oh yeah, it’s very real. You see them start grading the road and you know it’s real.

“I don’t want to say we’re desperate. I haven’t actually pulled the trigger and emailed my field search committee to say, ‘Hey guys, we need to start.’ But I’m very close.”

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