Airports such as Solberg blossomed in an era when local young men turned their dreams of barnstorming into air dominance in World War II and led this country into its golden age. These dreams still live in our youth…. Men and women throughout history gazed longingly at the soaring effortless freedom of birds, pondering release from the symbolic bondage of gravity. Hon. Paul W. Armstrong, J.S.C.
The judge’s opinion in Township of Readington v. Solberg Aviation Co., which reads like a love letter to aviation in general and to the Solberg family in particular, notes, “The Fifth Amendment authorizes the taking of private property for public use. This does not mean that a government may always do what it deems in the best interest of its constituents”.
Readington Township commenced an eminent domain action following a 2006 referendum wherein the majority of Readington citizens authorized the issuance of a $22 million bond to preserve the lands surrounding the airport. Despite a New Jersey Supreme Court ruling in the MiPro homes v. Mt. Laurel case, which upheld a municipality’s right to take property by eminent domain in order to preserve open space and prevent development, this judge ruled in favor of Solberg Aviation. The judge did not rule that open space preservation is an improper use of eminent domain. Rather, the judge’s opinion was that “the Township’s primary purpose was never environmental protection, but rather limiting airport expansion…”
So where do we go from here?
We are against airport expansion. We are in favor of attempting to negotiate with the Solbergs to reach a resolution that will protect the property values and quality of life of Readington residents. If the Solbergs fail to negotiate in good faith to reach a resolution that honors these critical terms, there are two remaining options:
- Appeal Judge Armstrong’s decision. An appeal would be a small fraction of the cost of the trial and the years of discovery leading up to it. If we win on appeal, the Township would not have to pay the Solbergs’ legal fees, and the land around the airport would be preserved.
- Don’t appeal, and let the judge’s ruling stand. In this case, the Township would pay the Solbergs’ legal fees, and the parties should go back to the positions they were in the day before the taking. This means the Solbergs would have an airport on between 50-100 acres surrounded by 600+ acres of land zoned Agricultural Residential.
One thing to keep in mind is that In addition to the decision on the eminent domain suit, the Township is now also faced with defending against the lawsuit filed by the Solbergs to have the entire 700+ acres zoned for airport use. That suit had been stayed pending the outcome of the eminent domain action, and will now be re-activated if no appeal is filed.
These critical decisions should be made by people who have the interests of the entire Township in mind; not by candidates hand-picked and supported by the most vocal supporters of the Solbergs. Can you imagine a Township Committee with 4 out of 5 members that the Solbergs and their closest supporters helped elect negotiating with the Solbergs? We are in the best position to represent the interests of the entire Township.
Liz Duffy and Ben Smith