Friday, March 13, 2015

Solberg-Hunterdon Airport (N51) Readington, New Jersey: Solberg better serves public good as airport, not preserved space, trial document says

READINGTON TWP. — A post-trial reply brief from Solberg Airport says there was "no actual threat at any relevant time of imminent or even likely conversion" of the airport to anything "other than airport-related use."

The brief by attorney Laurence Orloff was required of both sides after testimony in the airport condemnation trial concluded, and it addresses issues raised during the trial. The trail took place over a period of seven months in Superior Court in Somerville, ending on Jan. 22.

The township was also required to submit a post-trial brief. Information on that brief was not immediately available.

The Solberg brief asserts that there was "never any likelihood that the Solberg Airport property would not remain overwhelmingly comprised of open space (at least 95% or more of the acreage taken in fee), even if the airport facility were expanded to a limited extent as a result of any of the alternatives set forth in the 1997 Solberg Airport Master Plan. "

Readington voters in 2006 approved a $22 million bond ordinance essentially requiring the township to either acquire the 625 open acres surrounding the airport and the development rights to about 100 acres used for airport operations, or to negotiate a settlement with the airport owners.

Both sides have been in court since then, and an attempt at mediation was made last year before the trial started.

According to the document filed on behalf of the Solbergs, the airport isn't "environmentally unique, comprised almost entirely of grassland and farmland like thousands of other acres in Readington."

It says a condemnation would be counter to the township's standard method of open space acquisition, of buying from a willing seller. "Readington had never, before or after this taking, used its eminent domain powers to acquire private property for open space purposes," the brief says.

It lists open space totals in the township to support its claim that Readington has "many other options to fulfill its supposed open space goals, to the extent they are not already more than reasonably satisfied."

The brief cites earlier court rulings related to Solberg, in addition to trial testimony to, for instance, bolster its stance on the need to condemn Solberg lands for open space preservation or to preserve the airport itself.

While open space preservation and our country's aviation system are both "undoubtably and indisputably public purposes which governmental policy holds dear," the brief says, Solberg Airport "serves a far weightier role in the state, regional, and national aviation system than it does in the Readington open space preservation efforts, to the extent the airport does not serve both." The brief makes reference to current and future needs as an airport.

However, the Solbergs add, "the Appellate Division did not ask this Court to try the question of which public purpose predominates in the abstract. Rather, the Court has been directed to resolve the question of which public purpose is more important with respect to the Solberg Airport property in view of the challenge to Readington's condemnation constraining the airport for all time to 102 acres.

"Solberg respectfully submits that the answer is clearly aviation, keeping in mind, of course, that while serving aviation purposes and furthering aviation policy, the property will continue also to promote open space as it has for the past 70 years."

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