5/12/15 Solberg Airport
Back in 2013, I told you about Solberg Airport. Located in upstate New Jersey, itâ€™s been owned and operated by three generations of the Solberg family for 80 years. It supports mostly smaller civil aircraft, welcomes model airplane enthusiasts, and it hosts the largest hot air balloon festival in North America.
It has a rich history.
However, the last decade of that history has been troubled. Claiming eminent domain, the Readington Township Council attempted to seize the property.
[Township of Readington v. Solberg Aviation Co., Docket No. HNT-L-468-06, filed in 2006]
They wanted to turn a privately-owned airport into a municipally-owned airport.
[On November 6, 2013, the Readington Township Council passed an ordinance to seize the airport using eminent domain in spite of overwhelming opposition from residents. Not one person at the heavily-attended council meeting spoke in favor of the seizure.]
The New Jersey Constitution, state statutes, and case law are all on the side of the airport owners. Itâ€™s abundantly clear the township was acting unlawfully and unconstitutionally.
[The New Jersey Supreme Court in the case Gallenthin Realty Development, Inc. v. Borough of Paulsboro (A-51-2006) limit eminent domain seizures for redevelopment to only cases of blighted areas. Which the airport is not.]
Last week, Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong agreed.
In a more than 50-page, blistering opinion, Judge Armstrong ruled against township calling its actions â€œa manifest abuse of the power of eminent domain.â€ He-all-but labeled the townshipâ€™s testimony false. Armstrong said he â€œharbor[ed] deep concerns about their individual and collectively credibility.â€
The judge also ruled the township must pay the Solbergsâ€™ legal fees, which are in the millions. Spent to keep property they already owned.
This is a significant win. When governments seize private property just because they want it then citizens and private ownership rights lose.