Solberg Appeal Will Result In Trial

Article from Hunterdon Democrat LINK

Solberg Airport issues should be sorted out at a trial, Superior Court rules
By Frank Mustac
A trial is needed to resolve the many issues between Readington Township and Solberg Airport. That’s the thrust of a 67-page ruling from the Superior Court Appellate Division.The ruling from the Superior Court Appellate Division has reversed the ruling of a trial judge over Readington Township’s condemnation of land surrounding Solberg Airport and development rights to the airport itself.

Bill McGrath, an attorney with Smith, Stratton in Princeton and a township resident not associated with the litigation, said the opinion has the effect of ordering a trial on “all the issues” in the dispute between the township and the Solberg family that owns the airport.

The decision is a mixed bag. While it affirms the right of the township to zone and acquire the land surrounding the airport, it also says that state law does not give the township authority to acquire the development rights to the airport itself, McGrath said. The opinion also states that the township’s actions are unlikely to “achieve the stated purposes” of preserving the airport, in part because “the fact that the facility will remain under the ownership of the Solbergs casts doubt on its post-condemnation survival… It appears that the decision to condemn development rights to the airport was tainted by the township’s desire to control airport operations.” It says “ultimate authority” over airport operations rests with the state, not the township.

The ruling also sides with the Solberg family over the township’s claim that they owe property taxes on the airport dating back to 2006.

“This means that the condemnation is not likely to be upheld on the airport itself, or land within the ’safety zone’” surrounding the airport, McGrath said. “The opinion sends a message to the trial judge.”

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Appellate Court Hears Oral Argments in Solberg Appeal

After more than a year the appeal of the judgement in favor of Readington Township has been heard in oourt. The three judge panel reviewed the case as presented at the original trial where the Solberg’s attorney argued the taking was “pretextual”.

One judge actually asked, “Let me understand. Don’t preservations normally result because people want to stop development? So why is the current case pretextual?”

The written judgement of the court is expected in four to six weeks and is expected to be posted at www.judiciary.state.nj.us.

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Court Finds In Favor Of Readington Township’s Battle

After more than a year the Superior Corut of New Jersey has upheld Readington Township’s Condemnation Complaint filed September 15, 2006. In doing so, the order states that “The Township is hereby vested with the right to the immediate exclusive possession of and title to the interests in the property described in the Declaration of Taking.

With Readington’s preservation of the property surrounding the airport as open space, development of any kind is precluded forever. The airport, remaining under the ownership of the Solberg family, has the ability to modernize and is encouraged to enhance facilities within constraints of the Townships Airport Zoning Ordinance.

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Supreme Court Refuses Readington’s Request To Certify Lower Court Decision

By not acting on Readington Township’s request to certify the decision of the appellate court, the State Supreme Court lets stand the ruling that will likely send the dispute to trial for resolution.

Hunterdon County Democrat article LINK

State Supreme Court refuses to hear Readington Twp.’s appeal in Solberg Airport condemnation battle
By Curtis Leeds / Hunterdon County Democrat

READINGTON TWP. — The state Supreme Court has refused to hear the township’s appeal of its case seeking to condemn the land surrounding Solberg Airport and acquire the development rights to the airport itself. That means, at least for now, that last year’s opinion from the state Appellate Division stands.

In the appellate ruling, a three-judge panel found that the contested 726 acres should not be treated equally. The land consists of seven lots divided into four tracts, and the court found that while the township has the right to zone and acquire the land surrounding the airport, authority over the airport and the safety zone around it rests with the state, which has “ultimate authority over aeronautical issues.”

The appellate opinion, which said that the township’s decision to condemn the airport’s development rights appeared to be “tainted by the township’s desire to control airport operations,” questioned what the condemnation would accomplish but found it “not improper” even if the motives “might be suspect.”

The opinion said some aspects of the case, such as exactly how much land the township can acquire through the condemnation, should be “determined after a full hearing.”

Resident Bill Lewis, a long-time critic of the condemnation, said his message to township officials is, “You lost. You were wrong. So cut it out” and end the appeals.

But Mayor Gerard Shamey said it’s not that simple. “No one has won or lost yet,” he said. “We’re still entitled to our day in court, with the Appellate Division opinion as our guide.” He said Township Committee will discuss Tuesday’s court opinion with its attorney and learn what it will mean to the township’s case.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed,” Shamey said. He added that he thinks it’s been “lost in the sauce” that the township’s objectives “were always consistent with preserving open space and preserving the airport… we’re the only one that’s done something to preserve the airport.”

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