The eminent domain battle between the New Jersey township of Readington (my home town) and Solberg Airport, which began in 2006, reached a new stage in May when a court ruled in favor of Solberg Airport. Eminent domain was initiated to prevent the development of Solberg Airport’s unused land, possibly into a housing development or airport expansion. The court concluded that Readington’s attempted use of eminent domain against the airport was a "manifest abuse of power." This was the third consecutive court loss for Readington, which cost the taxpayers and the Solbergs millions of dollars in legal fees and other related expenses.
In my last post, I addressed and rebutted a 2/15/15 letter published in the Hunterdon County Democrat titled Inverse Condemnation, in which John Kalinich Jr. claimed that if the Solberg’s expand their airport (which has been in operation since the late 1930s), it would harm property values for surrounding residents, resulting in “inverse condemnation.” Today I want to present my opinion on the viability of the claim that property values would be harmed or significantly impacted by an expanded airport. This post is presented in a “for what it’s worth” spirit, since I am not any kind of expert on property value assessments.
I left these comments supplemental to my main comments posted below Kalinich Jr.’s letter:
As an aside, and for what it's worth, let me express my opinion on the question of the effect a larger airport would have on surrounding property values. There has been a lot of hyperbole on this issue. During the Fall campaign, the Allen/Ghatti campaign sent a campaign flyer around quoting from a letter published in the Hunterdon Review (as I recall). The letter claimed that Solberg Airport expansion would reduce home values by “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” That would essentially make my house worthless. Really? Who could take that assertion as anything other than hollow scare talk?
Personally, I find it hard to see how an expanded Solberg Airport would be all that negative for property values in Readington. Solberg is an existing airport established in the 1930s. I don’t see how it’s any more innocuous than highways, industrial parks, or the like. Everybody who lives here today moved in knowing they were moving into a town with an airport. Aviation is a mature industry. It is integral to our society, and has well-established safety and other standards. We lived in Cranford, just a hundred yards from the Garden State Parkway, our backyard bordering on an industrial park, a few miles from Newark airport. We had no problem in 1977 quickly selling our Cranford home at a nice profit from the price we had paid just 5 years earlier, after which we moved to Readington in 1978.
We have friends who lived in Rahway for years, under the flight path of jets accessing Newark Airport. Many times we sat with them in their backyard as low-flying commercial jets flew low overhead. Yes, they were noisy, but hardly a life-disrupting factor. Well, our friends moved to North Jersey in 2014. They had no trouble selling their house in Rahway, which went for close to their asking price of $300,000—just slightly less than the assessed value of my home—after only two weeks on the market. Last summer, as we sat with them on the deck of their new house, what looked to me like a corporate jet passed low overhead, heading for Teterboro Airport. They paid over $1 million for their new home. People everywhere live with airports. Everywhere, homes around airports are bought and sold. Planes flying overhead can be an annoyance. But so are leaf blowers.
Election 2014: Eminent Domain and the "Limits of Rights"