2008-04-12 / Top News

Park Commission Acquires Unbuildable Lots Near Airport

By Karen Gould

Two lots at the end of the Mackinac Island Airport, condemned in 2006 over airport safety issues, have been purchased by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, and a third lot should be purchased by early summer. The three lots are in the Runway Protection Zone (RPZ) at the west end of the runway and, last summer, owners were prohibited by the state from building on them. The Mackinac Island State Park Commission, which operates the airport, said it would buy the unusable lots.

So far, Lots 6 and 8 in the Forest Brook subdivision have been purchased, while Lot 7, owned by Tom Dougherty of Erlanger, Kentucky, is pending.

Lot 8 was owned by Dale Ivey of Swartz Creek, who purchased the parcel for $72,000 in 2003. He received $149,300 from the Park Commission.

Lot 6 was owned by Gary Childs of South Lyon, who purchased it for $89,000 in 2004 and sold it to the commission for $126,500.

The commission also paid closing costs and survey fees, and, in some cases, covered attorney bills.

But after several years of paying property taxes and the interest on a loan, Mr. Childs said he lost money on the sale.

"It's just a sad thing," he said. "What was a dream turned into a nightmare. It's unfortunate. I used to love Mackinac Island... now it's just a sore subject."

"I lost money on a dream," he added, "because of somebody's mistake."

The mistake was that the Mackinac Island State Park Commission failed to warn the city and private developers that some of the property past the end of the runway, on the side of the bluff, was in the flight safety zone and could not be built on.

His property, Mr. Childs noted, was worth more money a few years ago, and the price offered should have been based on a good market, not a bad market. This year his taxes were increased on a piece of property that was not usable.

State Park Director Phil Porter said he is his sympathetic.

"I understand and appreciate," he said, "the frustration and concern all these landowners have experienced in going through this long process."

In addition to the lot purchases, the Park Commission is seeking avigation easements on four other privately-owned parcels that are partially inside the boundaries of the protected area. Since September, the park has been negotiating with Josh and Cynthia Ivey-Abitz, Bert and Danielle Vescoloni, Phillip Olson of C.P.T. Partnership, and Robert and Catherine Brockman.

An avigation easement controls the airspace over a piece of property and regulates tree height. Landowners, who have the easements agree not to have upward shining lights that could impede night flights, or duck ponds which would attract waterfowl a could promote a potential flying hazard.

The Runway Protection Zone has not changed since 1963, said Mr. Porter, but the Park Commission only began notifying landowners two years ago that their property was unbuildable or that airspace had to be controlled through avigation easements. Prior to that, according to Mr. Porter, detailed, three-dimentional maps of the RPZ were not available, so nobody understood the property restrictions on the bluff.

"The problem is," he said, "it hasn't been identified on a map so that builders and developers would be able to know that and to be able to work off that information."

With maps now available, airports across Michigan are facing a similar problem. In 2006, as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) detailed the airport zones, some communities were notified that land development near their airports violated FAA regulations.

According to Mr. Porter, "We have land development going on at the same time the FAA, through the [Michigan] Bureau of Aeronautics, is doing a better job of identifying safety areas around airports. What we are finding now is that where people are platting building lots in areas that are being identified as being unbuildable, or are ones in which there have to be avigation easements."

The commission has been negotiating with the landowners since last September. Prior to the offers, the land was surveyed, appraised, review appraisals were conducted, a negotiator was hired, offers were sent, and negotiations began.

To cover the transactions and pay for fees and professional services, the commission has received $1.2 million in state and federal funds.

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