Vergennes sides with airport holdouts; Two residents say upgrade would harm their properties

VERGENNES TOWNSHIP -- Two Vergennes Township residents are not signing on to a plan to upgrade the Lowell City Airport because they say their properties would be adversely affected.

The township is taking their side, claiming the plan also would adversely affect the master plan.

The city has claimed eminent domain on the airspace above Dale Fegel and Paul Barron's properties so trees can be trimmed or removed. The issue will be heard Dec. 21 in Kent County Circuit Court.

City Manager David Pasquale said it is to determine the necessity of the easements and whether compensation offered to both men is fair.

The airport plans to upgrade from "basic utility" to "general utility" status, which would allow one runway to be lengthened 350 feet and the addition of a pilot-controlled beacon.

Airport officials have said trimming and removal of trees on a handful of adjacent properties is needed to correct air-space violations at its current status, and to qualify for a state grant that would help fund the upgrade.

Fegel and Barron have refused to accept air easement payments to allow some of their trees to be trimmed or removed because the easements also limit what they can do with their properties.

Six other neighboring property owners accepted air easement payments.

Barron's property is at 432 Lincoln Lake Ave. Fegel's property is at 12752 Vergennes Road. The amount offered by the state to Barron is $9,700. The amount offered to Fegel is $16,800.

According to the "declaration of taking" for each property approved by the Lowell City Council on Nov. 5, Barron and Fegel would be restricted from building structures such as homes, churches, schools or shopping centers on their properties.

Vergennes Township Clerk Mari Stone said officials are drafting a resolution to the city that opposes the taking of the properties' air easements.

Stone said the township thinks the compensation to Barron and Fegel is unfair, and contends that the airport upgrade will alter the township's master plan and zoning.

The need for the upgrade has not been adequately established, Stone said, and to impose restrictions on development near the Lincoln Lake Avenue-Vergennes Road intersection will erode the tax base.

"That's where we've planned to see commercial, not other areas," Stone said. "This is far-reaching over what we were told they wanted to do. We're challenging the necessity of this."

Those involved in the airport project have said Fegel and Barron already are restricted by federal laws from certain uses because of their proximity to the airport.

The "city village zoning act" -- Public Act 110 -- reads in part that "if an approached protection plan was approved by the aeronautics commission (it) shall be adopted by local zoning."

Airport Manager Jim Sowle, who also lives next to the airport, has said the upgrade is a safety issue at the 88-acre airport, and has promised the airport will not grow in size.