Lawyer Looks into Liability over New Runway

JANUARY 22, 1999

A Greensboro lawyer and former Cardinal resident is looking into whether homeowners living near a planned Federal Express cargo hub have grounds to sue over a new runway for the hub.

Jeff Peraldo of the Donaldson and Black law firm said he is studying whether anyone involved in the development or marketing of the Cardinal community should be held liable for "a failure to disclose the existance of (the airport's) plans for the third runway."

He is also looking into reports that the Cardinal Corp., the original developer, may have written restrictions into subdivision deeds that protected the airport from potential liability over noise as it expanded. If they exist, they could be a barrier if home owners ever need to force the airport to buy their properties.

He is the second lawyer in little more than a week to say they are helping residents sort through legal options. Winston-Salem attorney Bill Maready, who met with residents last week, said the FedEx incentives might be challenged in federal court by claiming they violate the U.S. Constitution, which says only Congress can regulate interstate commerce.

Maready drew statewide coverage several years ago when he sued Winston-Salem and Forsyth County over their use of cash incentives to lure companies.

Peraldo said he is casting a wide net in his search for those who might have failed to disclose to home buyers the Piedmont Triad Airport Authority's plans for a third runway. Among them: all previous owners, lenders and real estate agents. "At this point it is far too early to make any legal calls one way or the other on these issues," said Peraldo, whose parents still live in The Cardinal. "It's just something we're looking into for the homeowners."

Patrick Williams, the Cardinal Corp.'s executive vice president in 1973 when property was rezoned for the community, said there was never an attempt to withhold information on the airport's proposed runway from home buyers. "It was not a real concern at the time," Williams, now a Baptist pastor in Wilmington said Wednesday. "I know there wasn't anything done to mislead people on that. We knew we were by an airport and that airports expand. That was the way everybody was looking at it at the time."

On the possibility of deed restrictions protecting the airport from liability over noise, Peraldo said he has yet to find any such restrictions. News & Record research turned up no such restrictions either. If such restrictions exist, homeowners would first have to go to court to have the restrictions removed. Then any case against the airport could proceed.

The issue was raised in a December News & Record article that referred to a 1973 article reporting the Cardinal rezoning approval. During the 1973 meeting of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners, Stanley Frank, airport authority chairman, was the only member of the public who spoke against the rezoning, which passed 3-2. At the time, the airport's long range plans showed a non-commercial runway which it hoped to build in the future. Frank said the runway could create noise problems for the residents if ever built.

According to the 1973 article, Williams assured commissioners that deed restrictions would be written relieving the airport of liability "if and when we know the runway is to be built."

Neither Frank nor State Sen. Bob Shaw, then commissioners chairman, recalled any discussion of deed restrictions. Williams, though, said he vaguely recalled talking about such restrictions but believes they were never acted on because airport noise subsided as an issue. "Expansion of that runway was so far in the future that nobody gave it much credit," he said.

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