Sarasota Bradenton International Airport recorded its highest number of monthly passengers ever in April and has become one of the fastest-growing airports in the country. The airport anticipates that it will serve 2.5 million passengers in the first seven months of 2022—nearly double the 1.3 million passengers served during the same timeframe in both 2020 and 2019.
While all that travel has been a boon to the local economy, nearby residents have mixed feelings about the increased air traffic.
The airport is located between the cities of Bradenton and Sarasota, right on the Sarasota-Manatee county line, and the areas located to the north, west and south of it are primarily residential.
Homes in Whitfield Estates and Ballentine Manor, two nearby communities, have a median listing price of $490,000. Prices are most affected by whether homes are located west or east of Tamiami Trail, or on Sarasota Bay. The Whitfield area is close to The Ringling, New College of Florida, golf courses and, of course, the airport.
Gary Ferrara bought a home on Southern Pine Lane in 2017 but moved in August 2020 when he found the airport noise to be “unbearable,” as he wrote in an email thread he started in December 2019 and sent to elected officials and Rick Piccolo, the airport's chief executive officer and president.
“I have been looking for another home and won't even consider another home east of the trail in Whitfield, where my house is, because of the air traffic," Ferrara wrote. "I have looked at several homes west of the trail in the Whitfield Ballentine neighborhood and declined to put in offers when a plane would take off or land while viewing the property. I cannot justify spending $400,000-$600,000 in that neighborhood because of the airport noise."
According to Piccolo, in 2020, the airport noise hotline received 129 calls—roughly one call every three days. In 2021, so far, the hotline has already received 96 calls.
Airport noise doesn’t seem to be affecting the value of nearby properties. An empty lot at 300 Braden Avenue, for example, is listed for $1 million, while a double lot on the bay at 205 Bernard Avenue sold for $2.1 million last month. A five-bedroom, six-bathroom home at 7418 Westmoreland Drive sold for nearly $1.9 million last week. According to the Whitfield Ballentine Manor Association, more than 160 homes in the area have changed hands in the last 12 months.
And two real estate agents who live in the area say most homeowners don’t seem to harbor regrets.
Marnie Matarese, the president of the Whitfield Ballentine Manor Association, works with Dwell Real Estate and has lived on the west side of Tamiami Trail for 14 years, right in the plane path, she says. She can read the bellies of aircraft as they pass over her home.
"It doesn't bother me one bit," she says. "People should not purchase property near an airport if they are going to complain about the noise.”
Norman Luppino, a real estate agent with SaraBay Real Estate, Inc., has lived on Magellan Drive, east of Tamiami Trail, for more than 30 years. He also sells homes there. “We sell 110 to 130 homes a year here, values have been going up since 2011, and every year we post gains," says Luppino. "The area impacted by the airport the most is west of the Trail and, ironically, it's where the highest prices and easiest sales are. That area is very much in demand."
Luppino says airport noise was a larger issue in the past. "Now, the planes are so much quieter,” he says. “People know there's an airport there when they buy. And it’s still not anywhere close to air traffic like major airports in Tampa or Atlanta.”
Since 1989, as part of its Noise Compatibility Program, the airport has spent more than $45 million to purchase nearby homes, tear them down and maintain the empty lots. The airport has also soundproofed homes with new windows and acquired navigation easements for nearby properties. The Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority ran that program from 1990 to 2005 and extended the boundaries of eligibility beyond the original geographical and time-of-purchase limitation imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Since buying the Whitfield homes removed potential income that would have come from people paying dues to the neighborhood association, the airport gives the association $1,000 a year, on top of paying for neighborhood improvements.
“We're happy to be a member of the association and that gift is recognition that we had an impact on their dues," says Piccolo. "We have a good relationship with our neighbors."
In an April 2020 email addressed to Piccolo, resident Claire Lavin wrote, "We are asking that you cut back to the level of air traffic that was in place last year, before your expansion." Lavin lives west of Tamiami Trail, on Bernard Avenue.
Piccolo argues that there has been no "expansion" at the airport. "The physical size of the terminal is the same as it was in 1989, when it opened," he says. "The runway was lengthened in 1999 and remains the same length today. The expansion of air service is a result of the growth of the area as a whole. The marketplace determines the level of service, not the airport.
As it stands, it doesn’t appear Ferrara’s or Lavin's concerns will spur action, and once international travel bans lighten up, demand for air travel will likely increase. In fact, the airport plans to invest roughly $130 million in the next few years to add a new baggage system, expand fuel storage capacity and more.
“Our plans are to keep growth up the best we can,” says Piccolo.