Second Suit by Airport Names W.P.
The final approach to easing tensions between the Moore County Airport and Whispering Pines has encountered even more turbulence.
The Moore County Airport Authority has filed a second lawsuit against the village of Whispering Pines challenging the village's claim that it has zoning jurisdiction over the airport's property.
Whispering Pines council member Skip Gebhardt said he doesn't understand why the airport authority would launch a new lawsuit when the first one has yet to be resolved.
"This appears to say the same thing the first lawsuit had to say," Gebhardt said. "It doesn't appear that the airport's attorney has enough to keep himself busy."
The new lawsuit deals with the exact same issue as the first suit filed in July -- Whispering Pines' ability to zone and regulate development at the airport as part of its extraterritorial zoning jurisdiction. While much of the text is the same, it adds that an airport zoning ordinance passed by the council Aug. 27 violates the airport authority's autonomy as a North Carolina political body, as outlined by a 1993 N.C. Senate bill.
Airport attorney Tom Van Camp said passage of the ordinance required the airport authority to file a new suit on Sept. 25.
"This is necessitated by [Whispering Pines] passing that ordinance," Van Camp said. "We have to go on record to challenge it."
Van Camp said the airport's position that Whispering Pines has no zoning authority over it is clear. As with the first suit, the airport authority contends that a dispute over regulation could "substantially delay funding and/or construction" of new hangars. The authority hopes to have a ruling in the matter before "awarding or executing contracts" to build the hangars.
The ordinance specifically outlines the village's ability to regulate the construction of new facilities on airport property, as well as ensuring that proper infrastructure exists, and to control groundwater, petroleum waste and toxic metal runoff.
The council unanimously approved the ordinance despite strong reservations from the village's Planning and Zoning Board. The planning board voted unanimously to recommend that the council reject the ordinance. Board member Bob Kroll stated at the Aug. 27 council meeting that the ordinance was "ill-conceived, egregious and without merit."
But Gebhardt maintained that the council should exercise its zoning rights.
A hearing on the first lawsuit will be held in Moore County Superior Court on Oct. 13.
In an attempt to settle the runway protection zone (RPZ) issue for the airport and Highland Drive residents, Rusty Nealis, a program manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, sent a letter to authority chairman John Owen clarifying his organization's position on the matter. He said that it is not the FAA's policy to force airports to take houses by eminent domain and that the airport's current policy was satisfactory.
"We do encourage all airports to control the RPZs preferably through land acquisition," Nealis said in the letter. "However, it is not our policy to mandate that airport sponsors condemn property of those who are unwilling sellers. We understand the importance of maintaining a good relationship between the airport and the surrounding community. Therefore, we find your policy to acquire property in the RPZ as it comes available on the open market and as funds are available for their acquisition acceptable."
Whispering Pines Mayor Bob Zschoche praised Nealis' letter and called on the authority to act immediately instead of spending money on the hangar project.
"I am delighted that the FAA is encouraging the airport authority to take this action," Zschoche said. "I hope that the authority will implement the FAA guidance by prioritizing this land acquisition effort ahead of other airport projects. I would hope that the airport will immediately use the funds intended to build new hangars at the airport, and set them up in a trust so that home purchases can be made as the homes come on the market. It's obvious that getting people out of harm's way is far more important than building new hangars."
Zschoche also said that an alternative would be to expand the runway to the south and shorten it at the north end to remove all of the homes from the RPZ completely.
Owen could not be reached for comment. Airport Manager Gary Barnum said the authority does not plan to condemn homes or take them by eminent domain. He said it could possibly buy the homes as they became available on the market, but it does not have the funds right now to do that.
Highland Drive residents have been asking for a resolution on the issue for months.
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
More like this story