October 19, 2016

The Solberg family, owners of Solberg Airport, opened a lawsuit against Readington Township to forcibly increase the amount of land zoned for airport use.   According to the suit, currently 122 acres are zoned for airport use.  The action requested that the entire property totaling 726 acres be zoned airport.  The case was opened as a Prerogative Writ case, which potentially directs the behavior of another arm of government, such as an agency, official, or other (lower) court.  Readington chose defend itself, given the massive implications such a ruling would have on Readington Township.  Opening arguments began on September 7th. The judgment, issued on September 26, holds that Readington' s zoning is invalid.   The pending appeal of the 2015 Judge Armstrong ruling was a contributing factor in this zoning action not going to full trial, as the zoning is a component of the current legal proceeding.   

Currently, the remaining 600+ acres are zoned as agricultural/residential. The Solbergs have been benefiting from the current Farmland Assessment zoning on that land, signing off every year that they are actively engaged in agricultural activities on that part of their property.  

The current runway length at Solberg is paved to about 3000'.  The Airport is already permitted to improve (pave) that length to 3735' on the main runway section with no change of zoning.  (Today that extra 700' is turf/grass.) They have been allowed expanded the existing 30,000 square feet of hanger space to 150,000 square feet.  Likewise, under the existing zoning, they may add car rental service, a restaurant, a museum to Thor Solberg Sr., make parking and entrance improvements and much more under the existing zoning.  In spite of all these permitted improvement opportunities, the Airport hasn't made any significant improvements in almost ten years. Still, they initiated the lawsuit to rezone the entire property, forcing Readington back to court to defend its zoning.   

As you may recall, in October of 2015 Solberg Airport received a No Objection approval from the FAA regarding the airspace around the Airport. This was the result of the Solbergs' filing with the FAA for a potential expansion of the main runway from 3000' to 5600'.  See our article on this matter:  Solbergs FAA ruling  

Recently, Solberg attorney Larry Orloff was quoted about airport expansion after this most recent decision: 

"They (Readington Township) don't want the runway to be any longer and they don't want the airport to service any more than it does - that's in a nutshell what this is all about," he said. "There's a reason why the control is put in the New Jersey Department of Transportation. Every town with any population would like to keep airports small, but the aviation industry and the aviation community needs available airports."  Source:  MyCentralJersey.com

Orloff acknowledged, however, that the expansion won't come anytime soon. The township is appealing Armstrong's decision in the eminent domain case but briefs haven't even been filed yet, Orloff said, noting the expansion can't take place until the appeal is decided.  Source:  NJ.com 

This suit, and the remarks of Mr. Orloff, demonstrates yet again, that the Solberg Airport owners will expand given the opportunity to do so. This was also a position attested to by Thor Solberg in his testimony before Judge Armstrong. The lawsuit also demonstrates the Solberg's lack of concern about the impact of the runway lengthening and airport expansion on the residents of Readington.

Only our community's decade's long, persistent defense of our quality of life and the willingness of our Township Committee to stay the course and continue to engage in the litigation process with the Airport, has prevented expansion up to this time. No one, including CFR, is happy about the continuing and costly litigation. CFR also understands that there are two sides to the story. We have always supported a negotiated settlement in which Solberg Airport thrives as a prosperous and safe General Aviation airport at its current size and a good neighbor. Despite the lack of successful negotiations over the years, CFR hopes that both sides will reengage in negotiations and reach an agreement before Readington is forever changed. Let our town put this saga behind it with a solution that works for everyone.

Solberg Airport Receives Summary Judgment to Enable all 726 Acres For Airport Use