The balance, over 90% of the land, or about 670 acres, is presently undeveloped open space being used for agriculture. Readington’s current zoning allows for only 101 acres, or 14%, of the tract to be developed for airport use. The balance, that is 625 acres, is zoned AR, or Agricultural Residential. Despite this, Judge Armstrong included in his decision the statement that Solberg Aviation is granted “any and all rights to operate an airport aviation enterprise” as well as "nonresidential uses" in his ruling. This portion of the Judge's decision went beyond the scope of the condemnation because it essentially rezoned the entire 726 acres to allow not just expanded airport use, but also other unspecified “non-residential” uses.
Under the NJ Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL), municipalities have the right to designate allowed uses on properties by creating zoning ordinances and a zoning map. As a result of this court ruling, which is contrary to State Legislation, the Solberg’s are now able to develop the entire 726 acres of the airport property for any non-residential use that they choose. It is widely believed that the judge overstepped his authority with this ruling. Any use other than what is allowed by zoning would require a zoning variance. Typically, in order to request a zoning variance for a property, applications are presented to the Township Board of Adjustment in a public meeting. Readington’s home rule has been superseded.
The New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law Statute can be accessed on the New Jersey Legislature's database.
Solberg Aviation filed a post-trial motion to change the zoning on their properties to allow airport use on their entire 726 acre property.
In a separate lawsuit, filed in 2007, the Solberg’s sought a legal determination that Readington’s airport zoning ordinance, which allows airport use on 101 acres of the Solberg Aviation tract, was unlawful and should be declared void. The Solberg-Hunterdon Air Safety and Historic Airport District (overlay) Ordinance was adopted by Readington Twp. in 2007, with the authority of The Air Safety and Zoning Act of 1983. The ordinance set boundaries for the Solberg-Hunterdon Airport and also defined an "airport safety zone" to limit the installation of obstructions that would interfere with the safe operations of the airport facility.
The “airport safety zone” is subject to Federal Aviation Administration and New Jersey Department of Transportation regulations and guidelines. Click here to learn more about the Township airport safety zone. It not only comprises much of the Solberg properties, but also adjacent areas, including Hillcrest Park, residential neighborhoods and a portion of the Holland Brook School property.
Following the decision of Judge Armstrong in the May 2015 ruling, the Solbergs included in their post-trial motions a request that the presiding Judge Ciccone swiftly dispose of this outstanding lawsuit in their favor, without a full trial, so that they could have the safety overlay zoning removed. Judge Ciccone denied the Solbergs' motion, refusing to summarily rule on the validity of the ordinance, but instead transferred this lawsuit for a full trial to Judge Peter Buchsbaum, who is well versed in matters dealing with land use.
If this zoning overlay were to be removed, and the Township does not appeal Judge Armstrong's May 2015 decision that superseded the Agricultural Residential zoning of the properties by allowing all 726 acres of the Solberg properties to be developed for airport use, there will be no recourse against airport expansion.
The Readington Twp. airport zoning ordinance can be viewed here.
Click Here for an interactive Readington Twp. Zoning Map from the Township Zoning web page.
A map of the airport safety zone can be viewed here.
Readington filed a motion to oppose Judge Armstrong’s May 2015 court decision that gave the Solbergs the right to expand the airport.
The Township argued that Judge Armstrong's decision permitting unfettered expansion of the airport went beyond the scope of the actual condemnation and actually granted the Solbergs permission to develop the entire 726 acres of their property. Judge Armstrong’s decision gave “Solberg Aviation Company…the right…to develop or otherwise utilize the aforesaid property for any use involved with or incidental to the ownership and operation of an airport…”
The Township’s post-trial motion sought to set aside this determination by Judge Armstrong as an overreach, which granted the Solbergs rights they never would have had if the condemnation had never taken place. The judge was not presiding over the development rights of the property, but rather only on the eminent domain case. In her post trial decision, Judge Ciccone denied this motion, preferring instead that this issue be decided as part of a full appeal.
Readington Twp. filed a motion to seek a reconsideration of Judge Armstrong's determination that the Solbergs were entitled to a reimbursement of litigation fees and costs from 2001 to the present.
The condemnation proceedings for the Solberg properties occurred in 2006, and the Township argued that any legal fees and costs that had incurred before the condemnation proceedings should not be reimbursable to the Solbergs. At this time the Solbergs' litigation costs and fees are unknown. The Township does not know the extent of the Solbergs' expenditures from 2001 through 2005 or from 2006 to the present time, but Judge Ciccone denied the Township's request that reimbursement of the litigation fees and costs be limited only to the period of time from the condemnation to the present, also preferring that this be decided in a full appeal.
Readington filed a post-trial motion to correct Judge Armstrong’s decision regarding allowed uses on the Solberg property.
In his May 2015 decision, Judge Armstrong ruled that the Solberg’s have the right to expand Solberg Airport and develop their entire 726 acres for airport use. At present, out of the entire 726 acre tract of land owned by Solberg Aviation, only about 60 acres are currently occupied by the existing airport operation.
August 31, 2015