The court concluded that ‘[t]there is no law, statutory, constitutional or otherwise, which clothes a governing authority with the right to utilize the power of eminent domain in order to restrict a legitimate activity in which the state has an interest.’ … While there is no evidence that the Township will use defendants’ property for any purpose other than an airport and open space, there is formidable evidence that the condemnation was initiated to thwart airport expansion. As the operation and control of airports are legitimate activities in which the state has a considerable interest, the Township’s unilateral efforts to restrict those activities can amount to bad faith.
In September 1990, the Solberg’s requested funding from the FAA for expansion. Shortly thereafter, the main airport runway was extended from 1,800 feet to 3,000 feet. In 1995, the Township Board of Education decided to site a new elementary school immediately adjacent to the airport. This decision drew sharp criticism from NJDOT, which warned that it would not be prudent to locate a school there.
The fact that the condemnation of development rights to the airport will not achieve its stated purposes indicates that the true purpose of the condemnation was to secure a greater measure of land use authority over the airport than the Township currently enjoys…These are improper purposes in that they subvert the Commissioner’s ultimate authority over aeronautical facilities.
In Sum, defendants’ evidence strongly suggested that the Township’s true purpose in condemning the land within the airport facilities area and safety zone was to secure ultimate control over airport growth and expansion. Because this purpose is contrary to express State purposes and beyond the power delegated to the Township by the Legislature, the condemnation of any parcels falling within the facilities area or safety zone must be set aside and determined after full hearing on the merits.
In contrast, the improper purpose in the matter at hand, which is to avoid the limitations on municipal zoning power imposed by State airport statutes and regulations, is not within the police powers delegated to the municipalities by the Legislature.
The condemnation will not likely achieve its stated purposes; the context of the condemnation reasonably suggests an improper purpose.
The court observed that bad faith in the condemnation context ‘includes the use of the power of eminent domain solely for a reason that is not proper, although the stated public purpose or purposes for the taking are plainly valid ones.’ Id. at 1156. It then found that taking land solely to block the construction of affordable housing was such an improper use.
Vesting the Township with fee simple ownership of the property within the airport safety zone would not preserve any open space that is in danger of being developed and would not provide additional recreational land for residents.