Airport Aims Suit At W.P.
The Moore County Airport Authority is suing the village of Whispering Pines in a dispute over regulating construction on the airport's property.
The lawsuit, filed a week ago, contends that the Airport Authority has the "exclusive right" to construct buildings and structures to operate, manage, and control the airport and its facilities effectively and is immune to any regulation from Whispering Pines. It says the village maintains that the airport is subject to its zoning and authority.
Whispering Pines Councilman Skip Gebhardt, who is assigned to issues relating to the airport, said he was puzzled by the authority's actions.
"I'm surprised and somewhat shocked that the Airport Authority would resort to litigation against Whispering Pines," Gebhardt said. "I'm not at all sure that this falls under the category of being a good neighbor."
The sole purpose of the suit, airport attorney Tom Van Camp said, is "to get a judicial determination whether Whispering Pines has authority over the airport." The suit seeks a declaration from Moore County Superior Court that the Airport Authority is "not subject to the jurisdiction or zoning of the village of Whispering Pines with respect to construction or development at the Moore County Airport."
Van Camp said the airport is only trying to get the issue resolved so it can move forward on construction.
"There's nothing personal," he said.
Gebhardt has publicly stated his opposition to the hangar construction and has expressed his frustration over the airport's slow response to addressing the fate of 14 homes on or near Highland Drive that are in violation of an FAA runway safety zone. The FAA ordered the airport to buy up the homes and remove them from harm's way, but no action has been taken yet.
Whispering Pines Mayor Bob Zschoche said he was also "very surprised" by the airport's actions and did not understand why the lawsuit was coming out at this time. Zschoche said he and the council had not had adequate time to respond to a letter from the Airport Authority asking the council to articulate its position on the matter of zoning authority. He said village residents are upset that the Airport Authority has not been forthcoming with information about its intentions.
Zschoche pointed to a public meeting between Whispering Pines residents and members of the Airport Authority on May 21 in which members of the authority were noncommittal in their responses to questions about whether or not the 14 houses on Highland Drive would be condemned.
The lawsuit comes in the wake of the Airport Authority's attempts to construct new hangars on airport property. Whispering Pines residents and the Village Council have expressed concern over the increased noise they say would be created by additional aircraft drawn to the hangars. They're also concerned about the Highland Drive issue.
The authority is currently in the midst of finding a contractor to construct the hangars. It is concerned that a failure to resolve the dispute between the airport and the village before a bid is selected could substantially delay funding and construction of the hangars.
The relationship between the airport and Whispering Pines has recently grown contentious. Highland Drive residents have been locked in a battle to save their homes since the FAA ordered their removal in 1996. Airport Authority members expressed hesitation to accept the invitation to the May 21 public meeting because they believed village residents had a "we versus they" attitude toward the airport and thought they would be facing a hostile audience.
Gebhardt said he and many of the residents left that meeting with "eyes glazed over" because of the lack of information set forth by the authority.
The airport says it wants to build the hangars as a response to a growing list of private pilots who want to rent space to park their aircraft. Having more hangars would generate additional revenue.
The Moore County Board of Commissioners turned down the airport's request for a $2 million loan to pay for the hangars earlier this year, forcing the airport to pay for the hangars out of its own coffers.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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