Florida Landowners Must Prove Decreased Property Value in Airport Noise Suit

APRIL 3, 1999

The Palm Beach Post (Local section, page 1B) reports a judge's ruling may have crippled the case of Palm Beach, Florida, landowners who claim their peace of mind is shattered by the noise of 85 air flights a day over their homes from Palm Beach International Airport.

The residents, banded together as the Palm Beach Neighborhood Association, sued in March 1998 after county officials refused to consider a ban on air traffic from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. (See Neighborhood Association Will Sue Palm Beach County Over Airport Noise .) The Palm Beach residents live in a four-block stretch, directly east of the Palm Beach International Airport. "One thing (the residents) really wanted was a nighttime curfew," Mayans said.

Noisy planes are fined for takeoffs and landings between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. But Deputy County Attorney Gordon Selfridge said the Economic Council, tourism officials, and county commissioners all opposed an outright curfew. The group and the county had agreed on banning older aircraft, developing stricter pilot guidelines for quieter landings and departures, and creating a $100 million insurance policy.

The article reports that in order to win their lawsuit the island residents must prove their property values actually decreased -- not merely increased more slowly than their neighbors' -- and that their homes are virtually unlivable, Palm Beach Circuit Judge Kathleen Kroll ruled Thursday. Kroll said, "In rapidly growing areas like Florida, it is difficult, if not impossible, to show an actual decrease. Increased values are experienced naturally due to population growth and limited water frontage," the judge wrote.

"Traditionally, vacant land values there have increased less than values in comparable areas outside the flight path," said Joy Hearn, a senior appraiser for the county Property Appraiser's Office. She said values in the flight-path area have increased about 30 percent since 1994.

"The ruling will make it very difficult for them to prevail," said Deputy County Attorney Gordon Selfridge. Selfridge said the county would request financial records from the homeowners to prove the value of their homes has not decreased. "Unless we can show that a property's value went down since the date of purchase, we can't prove our case," said Stephen Mayans, attorney for the 42 homeowners. The group could appeal, refile the case in federal court, or go to trial against Palm Beach County. Mayans said it could take a month before he can meet with all the clients to decide.