Sussex set to condemn land near airport

Jan Fraipont holds out for deal on eight-acre parcel
This is the section of Jan Fraipont's property that Sussex County officials do not want to purchase as part of a county airport expansion project. BY RON MACARTHUR
February 1, 2013

Jan Fraipont says she just wants a fair deal from Sussex County. A Sussex County attorney says Fraipont is getting a reasonable offer.

The final resolution may be decided in Superior Court: a condemnation hearing on Fraipont's land scheduled in March.

Fraipont's eight-acre home in Georgetown is near the Sussex County airport, and part of her land will lie in the fly-zone when the county airport runway is extended. “I've been told so many different things over the past nine years,” she said. “I want to be treated in a fair way when they are trying to throw me under the bus.”

Her parcel contains six acres of woods and another two acres of cleared land where her nearly 5,000-square-foot home sits, about a quarter mile south of the existing runway.

County Assistant Attorney David Rutt said the county wants less than five acres of the parcel and has offered $37,000 in total for an easement on about half of the property and for out-right purchase of the other half.

Fraipont wants the county to purchase the entire parcel including her house – which is an offer, she said, county officials had previously made – not just the wooded acres. She said the county had her entire parcel appraised at $800,000, which is lower than her appraisal. “It's not that unfair, but would need to be negotiated up a little,” she said. “I just want what I have now, and what was promised to me since day one.”

She's convinced she would never be able to sell her house – where she has lived since 1989 – if the property were divided and the woods clear cut. “This house is my future and my main asset for my retirement,” she said. She says she couldn't rebuild her house for less than $1 million.

Rutt said the county does not need the entire parcel. “We have no other use for the rest of the property, and to purchase it would be a waste of taxpayer's money,” Rutt said. “We've filed for condemnation and immediate possession based on the value of our appraisals.”

Rutt said the county has condemned other properties over the years.

Rutt said both sides – Fraipont has hired an attorney – will keep talking to possibly resolve the issue before the hearing. “If we can't reach a resolution, we will go through the hearing process and the court will decide,” he said.

Fraipont said she is willing to sit down with county officials. “I just want what others have received,” she said.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which funds a large percentage of airport improvements, requires clear areas beyond runway landing and take-off zones. Rutt said for that reason, Sports at the Beach – located adjacent to the airport – cannot develop a section of its property close to the airport.

Fraipont said she has done an exhaustive search of county records and has discovered the county has paid out more than $5 million to purchase 12 properties to make way for the project, which includes the relocation of Park Avenue, a truck bypass around the airport. Fraipont lives off Park Avenue on Springfield Lane.

County officials did not confirm her figures, but did say the county has spent significant money on land acquisition.

She said some of her neighbors have been paid moving and other relocation expenses. She said most residents were able to negotiate a decent buyout with some of her neighbors getting as much as $60,000 to $95,000 an acre.

“I think their goal is to beat me down. I don't understand why I'm being treated unfairly,” she said. “I'm tired of being lied to, but I will not roll over for them.”

She said she's convinced the county will eventually want all of her land. “I've seen the master plan,” she said.

County Administrator Todd Lawson said the county has been purchasing land for airport expansion over the past two decades. Negotiations for one other parcel other than Fraipont's is ongoing, he said.

First of two phases under way at airport

Sussex County is in the midst of the largest infrastructure project in its history. Phase I of the airport project – at a cost of $4.4 million – is under way to expand the main runway from 5,000 to 5,500 feet. That phase is expected to be completed in late 2013. Phase II – at an estimated cost of $25 million – would expand the runway another 500 feet to 6,000 feet to accommodate larger jets. Under Phase II, Park Avenue – the bypass around the airport – will be moved and the protection area around the airport will be expanded. Phase II is expected to be completed sometime in 2017.

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