Friday, May 30, 2014

Solberg Airport: Who Shapes "Community Character"?

With the Solberg issue once again heating up, Mayor Julia Allen published a letter in the Hunterdon County Democrat addressing the issue.  She wrote:

Since 2006, Readington Township has been moving forward with efforts to purchase an interest in Solberg Airport. In a special referendum, the electorate had supported a proposal to purchase the development rights on the 100 acre Airport Facilities Area and to purchase the 625 acres of open space surrounding the airport. Sixty one percent of registered voters participated in the 2006 referendum and the measure passed with 56 percent of voters approving the $22 million purchase.

Allen justified the coercive seizure of Solberg as follows:

A recent study commissioned by the FAA noted that the income generated from small airports is not sufficient to justify the huge capital investment in the land they occupy. This means that the open land and the small general aviation airport may succumb either to suburban sprawl as it advances across central New Jersey, or it may be transformed into a much larger airport. Either scenario would negatively impacting the township’s community character.

In a more comprehensive Mayor’s Corner letter to township residents, Mayor Allen recounted the history of the Solberg issue dating back to the 1960s. In that letter, she stated:

The stated purpose of [the eminent domain] action is the permanent preservation of the Township’s largest remaining tract of open space, and the preservation and control of the airport in order to protect Readington’s community character.

The crux of the matter, from the eminent domain proponents' perspective, is clearly preserving the township as is. But what is community character, and who shapes it? Do some residents have to right to impose their "community character" values on everyone else? Mayor Allen asked Readington residents for their input:

The Township Committee is now assessing its options in light of the serious questions raised by testimony at the public hearing on November 6th [2013]. Many speakers at this meeting called into question the continued public support for this acquisition, pointing out the failure of negotiations with the owners of the airport, and public opinion that is clearly shifting against the use of eminent domain. . . .
So, how does this story end? Clearly, the final chapter has yet to be written. The issue of Solberg Airport in Readington Township is predictable in that it “sleeps” for a while, sometimes a long while, then erupts into a dramatic crisis. What is going to happen to the airport in the future, and what will the impact be on the Township’s quality of life? As long as this question remains unanswered and the issue remains unresolved, this is going to continue to be a matter of debate.
The Township Committee would be interested in hearing where citizens stand today on the issue of Solberg Airport. If you would like to share your views with the Township Committee, please contact the Mayor at

I sent the following letter to the committee, reflecting essentially the same comments I left with Allen's Hunterdon County Democrat letter-to-the-editor.

Dear Mayor Allen and the Readington Twp Committee,

My wife and I have lived in Readington for 35 years. We would prefer not to have a larger airport nearby, or the added congestion a major development would bring. But our personal desires are not the issue. The issue is the rights of individuals to use their property as they see fit, so long as that use violates no one else’s rights—“rights” meaning the individual freedom to pursue one’s values without coercive interference from others. It’s hard to see where an expanded airport or housing development violates anyone’s rights. If someone thinks either use violates their rights, they can prove it in the approval process. Government’s job is to objectively resolve disputes from the standpoint of strict neutrality. It should not coercively interfere on behalf of any side.

But what about Readington’s “community character?” A community is made up of individuals, and the character of a town is properly the commulative result of how those individuals live their independent lives and voluntarily interact. No one has a right to maintain a particular “community character” to his liking by stopping others from pursuing their values, no matter how large a majority or how much political power he can muster. Neither does a community’s government acting on behalf of any electoral faction, majority or otherwise, have that right. (The fact that, contrary to basic principles of Americanism, governments have this power does not make it right.) The basic principle of America is to protect the minority from the power of government or any electoral majority, and the smallest and only morally relevant minority is the individual.

The character of the township may indeed change if Solberg Airport expanded or developed in some other fashion. But the Solbergs are as much a part of Readington as all others, and they have the same right to “shape” their town’s character through the peaceful use of their land as anyone else. We oppose the Readington government’s eminent domain designs on Solberg Airport and surrounding lands as immoral and un-American.

Thank you for the opportunity to register my viewpoints.

Respectfully submitted,
Mike and Kathy LaFerrara

Is "public opinion . . . clearly shifting against the use of eminent domain?" We'll find out on November 3.

Related Reading:

Readington's Eminent Domain Assault on Solberg Airport--1, 2, and 3

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