I’ve been tracking residential airparks since the mid 1970s and if I’ve found one problem more consistent than anything else it is the issue of airpark property owners getting into disagreements that end up in lawsuits.
There probably isn’t any real solution to that problem because people are people and there are always going to be conflicts.
Recently I heard from Reed White of Lava Hot Springs Airpark in Idaho about a dispute he’s been having with someone to whom he sold a couple lots. The issue has ended in court and there are now claims and counter-claims and more lawsuits and subsequent legal fees.
White bought the property in 1990 with the idea of building an airport and residential airpark. He sub-divided property into 10 lots and has sold five of them, keeping part of the original property for a commercial section. The airport is in the Idaho mountains in good tourism country. White sold two lots to Tom Lawler, the individual with whom he has been locked in a legal dispute. Lawler is building a structure at the airport and White has also built a home there. White manages the airport and related property. Three additional lots have been sold but none of the owners live in the area, according to White.
When White originally opened his 3,400-foot grass runway he listed it with the FAA as private-owned, public-use. Later he decided to make it private use since he wasn’t living there and feared liability from unapproved users.
Lawler bought his property, got a county permit to build and started construction. One day in 2005, according to a story in the Idaho State Journal, he found someone checking the runway and learned that White had asked the FAA to reclassify the airport as public-use. Lawler claims he bought the property as private use and wanted it kept that way because of the liability.
White decided to close the runway because of what he described as vandalism, theft and runway incursions. Lawler filed suit to get it reopened and on March 23, 2006 a Bannock County Court ruled that the field should be returned to active status.
White claims that the ruling doesn’t allow him to properly manage the airport and control incursions and other problems and is planning an appeal.
The net result of the entire battle is legal expenses for both parties, an uncertain future for a back-country strip and ill feelings all around.
While we don’t know who is right and who is wrong (and don’t intend to get more deeply involved) we write this as another warning to all parties to make sure the deed restrictions and CC&Rs are well understood before you make your purchase. If you understand everything, you can then make a better judgment on whether or not you can live by the rules that have been established.