Hunterdon County Superior Court Judge Paul Armstrong has invalidated Readington Township’s taking of the property that is Solberg-Hunterdon Airport and ordered the Township to pay attorney and expert fees, citing “manifest abuse of the power of eminent domain.”
In a 54 page opinion, the Court admonishes the Township stating “[i]ndeed, the evidence clearly and convincingly shows that these reasons were a pre-text for Readington Township’s true purpose, which was to limit the airport’s capacity to remain economically competitive and to limit its expansion.” The decision notes a series of events occurring just after Solberg released a master plan to expand and improve upon its airport in 1997, including the Township’s hiring of a public relations firm to handle the expansion which the PR firm identified as the Township’s “main issue” and a “problem”.
Subsequently, in 2006, the Township enacted an ordinance authorizing the taking of 724 acres of land owned by Solberg Aviation Co., which fueled a long legal battle captioned Readington Township v. Solberg Aviation, involving several appeals and has continued through to this most recent decision. This most recent opinion comes after the Appellate Division remanded the matter to the trial court in 2009 directing that the trial court determine whether the taking was proper under the New Jersey Eminent Domain Act. Armstrong’s opinion, however, highlights that the critical issue is not whether a municipality has the right to condemn land for non-use purposes, but whether a township may “engage in concerted subterfuge to reach [an] objective”.
The Township’s attorney informs that he and his client are “disappointed in the outcome” and are reviewing options.