Arizona Residents Sue Town for Airport Noise Damages

MARCH 27, 1999

The town of Gilbert should shell out millions of dollars for failing to enforce its own rules about airport disclosure, a group of residents says. More than 170 homeowners representing nearly 100 properties have filed a $7.9 million claim against the town for what they say are reduced property values resulting from Williams Gateway Airport overflights.

Phoenix attorney Richard Mack filed the claim Wednesday. Mack also represents a group of U.S. Home buyers near the airport that recently sued that builder.

"We tried to meet with the town and work this out, but they turned their backs on us," resident Steve Urie said. Urie is among those filing the claim and is no relation to Councilman-elect Steve Urie.

Claim documents cited the Gilbert council's 1995 adoption of a resolution that calls for special provisions for construction within the airport influence area. The provisions include public notification and home construction standards designed to soften the impact of noise. The town failed to enforce that resolution, the claim states.

Both Urie and claim documents refer to a public admission in September 1998 by Town Manager Kent Cooper that the town failed to enforce provisions of the resolution until 1997.

Cooper said Friday that the resolution is a policy, not a law, and represents the council's efforts to protect airspace around Williams. He said the town had no legal responsibility to inform home buyers about the airport. The resolution "was a good-faith effort to come up with some way of informing future homeowners, and it wasn't implemented as well as we'd have liked," Cooper said. "But it was a voluntary action on our part. It certainly isn't our responsibility under state statutes to notify anybody about anything when we buy a home. We are not a party to those transactions."

But Urie holds the town responsible for not requiring home builders to disclose the airport's use or to use construction techniques that muffled flight sounds. "I was told (by a sales agent) that the airport was closed, and it was going to be an ASU East campus and low-income housing," he said. Urie said he never would have purchased his home in Superstition Highlands had he known he would be living four miles from a commercial airport.

Town Attorney Susan Goodwin said Gilbert has 60 days to respond to the claim, which has been submitted to the town's insurance carrier for review. Under state law, the residents are required to file a claim before they can sue.

Urie said residents have asked town officials to scale down airport operations, stop expansion or compensate residents. He said if the claim is not paid, the homeownersgroup will seek others to join in a class-action lawsuit against the town.

Mayor Cynthia Dunham said Friday that the town never tried to hide the airport and is supportive of a noise study that will determine what impact planes have on surrounding neighborhoods.

Source: The Arizona Republic