Authority buys Owens’ property

Jun. 26, 2013 @ 05:01 AM

The Rutherford County Airport Authority voted Monday to purchase property owned by Rutherford County Commission Chairman Julius Owens at nearly double its appraised value.

The Airport Authority voted unanimously — Rob Bole did not attend — Monday night to purchase Owens’ property located at 154 Goshen Road for $300,000 to bring the airport into federal compliance.

The price the Authority is paying for Owens’ property is approximately $30,000 per acre. According to county records, the property is valued at $108,400 meaning the purchase price is $191,600 over the property valuation. The Airport Authority had an independent appraisal of the property that valued it at $168,000.

Airport Authority Chairman Bob Howard said that the Airport Authority made two offers — including an initial offer of fair market value — that were rejected. He said it was Owens that made a counter offer that was subsequently approved Monday night.

“At the end of the day, I have to look out for what is best for me and my family,” Owens said in an interview Tuesday “I thought it was in my best interest not to accept that first offer.

“When I choose not to be a commissioner, I still have an obligation to my family.”

A set of trees that interfere with the federally mandated glide slope ratio of the runway approach.

According to NASA, the glide slope ratio is the calculation of how far a plane travels for every 1-foot drop in altitude.

The trees located on Owens’ property have caused the airport to be in violation of the glide slope ratio of 20:1 since federal rules and county statutes were enacted in 1981.

“When the county passed the ordinance they didn’t do a study to see what was there,” Howard said.

It fueled a feud between Owens and the Airport Authority that continued until the purchase contract was approved Monday night.

“In the 90s, it was decided that the airport was just going to cut down the trees,” Howard said.

However, it was determined the Airport Authority overstepped its responsibilities because it is the county’s building and zoning department that is tasked with enforcing the regulations set forth in the ordinance.

The 10 acres that comprise Owens’ property have been contentious since that time.

“We were told by the Division of Aviation that we we were in violation and if it continued we would lose federal funding,” Howard said. “They were right.”

If the Airport Authority did not remove the glide slope ratio violation, Howard said they were in danger of losing $150,000 per year in federal funding.

“The law says we were in violation,” Howard said. “The DOA said the federal government wants to own the property.”

Ninety percent of the purchase price will be paid by federal funds collected on user fees while the remaining 10 percent — $30,000 —  will come from the county’s general fund through a federal grant.

“They are an independent authority established under state law and they have the right to make the decisions they want to make,” said Carl Classen, Rutherford County manager. “We will certainly abide by those decisions.”

Howard said the only other option was to spend $121,000 to move the touchdown zone on the runway.

“We figured that the problem was never going to go away,” Howard said.

Howard said the Airport Authority engineering firm of WK Dixon hired a negotiator outside of the Airport Authority to arrive at an agreement on the final price of the property.

“It wasn’t our job to figure out what the price is,” Howard said.

Once the property purchase is finalized, Howard said the Airport Authority will remove the trees on the lot that affect the glide slope ratio in order to bring the airport into federal compliance.

“Acquiring this property will help if we need to extend the runway,” Howard said. “We don’t plan on doing that but we will take the trees down.”