Stalemate continues in TCRA, Grande Harbor land dispute

Hank Hayes • Feb 26, 2009 at 12:00 AM

BLOUNTVILLE — A thorny land dispute between Tri-Cities Regional Airport and developers of an adjacent high-end residential subdivision showed no signs Thursday of coming to an end.

A settlement offered by developer Jeffery Booher to TCRA involving a half dozen property lots next to a crosswind runway, and a proposal to pay him $100,000 for possible incidental damages to the developers’ remaining 33 lots, did not fly with airport commissioners.

Commissioners instead agreed to consider buying the six lots “as is” with the lots’ deed restrictions toward a goal of preserving the runway protection zone, a vacant area where planes, people and buildings are not supposed to be at risk.

If TCRA can’t acquire those lots, the airport’s plans to extend the 4,447-foot crosswind runway by 500 feet and build a perimeter road around the airfield remain in jeopardy. More corporate aircraft might use the airport with the extension, and the road could connect with proposed south side airfield development, including planned corporate hangars.

Those lots are located at the main entrance to Grande Harbor, a high-end residential development at the heart of a property dispute with roots going back to 2003.

Legal documents and memos related to TCRA’s dealings with Grande Harbor, LLC, have their own file cabinet.

“Ladies and gentlemen, to say that dealing with Tri-City Airport is merely difficult is an understatement,” Booher told commissioners near the end of a 90-minute discussion held by TCRA’s executive committee. “We seem to go from meetings to meetings to lawyers, to meetings, to the executive committee to full commission, etc. It gets exhausting for one to deal with the airport.”

Booher and the subdivision’s other principals first approached TCRA about the airport buying some Grande Harbor land in September 2003, but airport officials said they were not interested after seeing the land’s tract appraisals.

With grants from the Federal Aviation Administration, TCRA bought 30 Grande Harbor acres in 2006 for $1.5 million.

Dealings between TCRA and Grande Harbor got more complicated after the developers offered those six runway-area lots to the airport for $360,000 in October 2007.

Last September, airport commissioners entered into a standstill agreement with the developers — keeping homes from going up on the lots — in exchange for $120,000. Commissioners also asked the Sullivan County Commission to initiate a friendly condemnation to acquire and remove deed restrictions on the six lots.

But the County Commission had questions related to the participation of the five other airport owners in any potential liability for the costs of the condemnation proceedings, according to a memo from TCRA Executive Director Patrick Wilson.

“Sullivan County wouldn’t want to stand alone on this thing,” Sullivan County Mayor Steve Godsey, an airport commissioner, said of condemnation action.

Airport commissioners also are concerned about the possibility of separate Grande Harbor property owners, aside from the developers, seeking damages from TCRA.

Yet another unknown is whether the FAA will pay for the lots and the condemnation process.

“They want us to try to determine and define the amount of potential damages,” Wilson said of the FAA. “That’s been the biggest challenge.”

Continuing to do nothing to acquire the lots, said Airport Commissioner Ken Maness of Kingsport, might not be a bad option for now.

“I cannot fathom anyone wanting to build a house on one of those lots. ... Standing still is not a bad thing,” he said.

Booher proposed the lot price and incidental damages agreement be filed simultaneous with a condemnation action.

“Grande Harbor will immediately file an answer accepting the condemnation including the incidental damages,” Booher added.

But TCRA and Grande Harbor’s principals did not agree when the $100,000 settlement payment would be made, according to Wilson. And if any of the airport’s owners backed out of condemnation, “the Airport Commission may not see any of the benefit from the $100,000 payment,” said Wilson.

TCRA’s owners are Sullivan and Washington counties, Johnson City, Kingsport, and both Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va.

For more about TCRA go to www.triflight.com.

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