Developer Drops Lawsuit over Airport Land-Use Compatibility Plan

JULY 3, 2001

A developer has dropped two lawsuits intended to invalidate an airport compatibility plan for protecting California's Santa Rosa Airport from encroachments. The development plan for land around the airport had been adopted after two years of painstaking study by the Sonoma County Airport Land Use Commission.

After the compatibility plan was adopted in early 2001, a local developer, Airport Business Center, filed a lawsuit alleging the plan was too restrictive for development in a portion of a runway safety zone. The petition alleged also that the commission violated state law by not requiring an environmental impact report before approving the plan. The commission had adopted a negative declaration on the basis that the plan would not cause a detrimental effect on the environment and there was no need for an environmental impact report.

The case took an unusual turn when the Sonoma County Counsel refused to represent the commission in defending against the lawsuit. The Commission called on a volunteer private attorney for help. The developer filed a second lawsuit charging the commission with having violated California's law against closed meetings. The complaint alleged that the commission had met in closed session with a "member of the public". That lawsuit was quickly dismissed when the developer's lawyer was informed that the "member of the public" was in fact the commission's private attorney from another county.

After several weeks of negotiations the developer agreed to the following terms. A judge would enter a stipulated judgment containing the following: (1) The developer would dismiss the first lawsuit also; (2) the airport compatibility plan would remain valid and in force; (3) the developer would dedicate an avigation easement over the developer's property for the benefit of the airport; (4) in turn, the developer would be allowed to develop its property in accordance with guidelines in the Airport Land Use Planning Handbook published by the Aeronautics Division of the California Department of Transportation. This handbook sets compatibility guidelines for all public airports in California.

The commission was represented by a member of the Airport Legal Defense Advocates, a group of volunteer lawyers sponsored by the California Pilots Association.

Source: California Pilots Association

See also: Sonoma County Commission Removes Ban on Hotels Near Airport