The agency that runs Tampa International Airport has hired an outside attorney to review how its staff determined whether structures were too tall to be built in the airport's flight path.
David Smith, a land-use law expert and former Tampa city attorney, will sift through documents and interview Hillsborough County Aviation Authority personnel, including executive director Louis Miller. Smith also will review proposed changes to the airport zoning rules.
"It is imperative that the integrity of the Authority processes going forward are protected, and I believe an independent review is justified," wrote Gigi Rechel, the agency's general counsel, in a memo to board members.
Throughout his 14 years as executive director, Miller has decided who gets permits for antennas, new buildings, cranes and other structures that exceed federal height limits around Tampa International and three general-aviation airports in Hillsborough County. All projects must be deemed safe by the Federal Aviation Administration before reaching Miller's desk.
But a 1977 Florida law calls for airports in the state to have a board of adjustment to decide if projects built higher than federal limits should proceed. Rechel told the St. Petersburg Times last week that she was concerned about the authority's compliance with the law and recommended that Miller move to create a board in 2006.
The authority didn't have a board of adjustment when Miller took over as executive director in 1996. George Bean, the agency's boss for the previous three decades, also made decisions on the height permits himself, Miller said.
On Thursday, Miller recommended changes to the airport height zoning regulations that include designating the five-member authority board as the airport zoning board, which rules on permits for structures exceeding federal height limits.
Board members will hold a public hearing on the proposal and vote on it at their March 4 meeting.
In other business, the board voted to require its approval for the aviation authority to demolish any building on airport property. Last month, Miller was criticized for consulting only one current board member — chairman Al Austin — before deciding to tear down the former Continental Airlines reservations center.
The demolition was put on hold after the Moffitt Cancer Center expressed interest in renting the 30-year-old, two-story structure.
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.