Jeffco-Area Homeowners Sue County Over Increased Air Traffic Issues

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More than 400 homeowners in Superior, Colorado’s Rock Creek housing development have sued Jefferson County over what they claim are violations of airspace, lead emissions and devaluation of their properties associated with operations at Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport (KBJC, aka Jeffco Airport). The development is less than a mile northeast of the airport.

Still widely referred to as Jeffco, the airport was developed after Jefferson County purchased 1,700 acres of land in 1959. It opened in 1960. As the area has seen an influx of development in recent years, traffic at the airport has increased significantly, with more than 300,000 operations recorded in 2022. The airport posts its “Friendly Flying” guidelines in a section of its website on its Fly Quiet Program. The website also features a section on “Living Near the Airport” with advice for home shoppers on ensuring they understand the implications of moving to the area.

Rock Creek was first subdivided in 1987, according to the Superior website, and as of 2006, some 2,700 single-family homes and 1,800 multi-family homes were built. Development continues to this day. According to the lawsuit, “Properties offered for sale have been sitting on the market for longer than other similar properties; some potential buyers have not moved forward after visiting properties; and some properties have been sold below market value.”

The controversy raises the issue of “avigation easements” which, according to the FAA sample application for same, enable property owners to grant—for a fee—“appurtenance rights” and benefits to an airport “for the use and benefit of the public.” Those rights enable “the unobstructed use and passage of all types of aircraft in and through the airspace at any height or altitude above the surface of the land.” In 2020 there were 29 such easements associated with KBJC. Citing noise levels in excess of what was written into the easement agreements, the Rock Creek Homeowners’ Association sued Jefferson County to eliminate all such easements. District Court Judge Stephen Howard ruled to close nine of the easements in 2021.

Adrian Nye, president of the Colorado Pilots Association, told AVweb it’s unclear what the real-world implications of the ruling would be, saying there is confusion over the amount of control such restrictions could wield when it comes to air traffic. Nye cited a letter posted on his association’s website sent to the Colorado State Attorney General by legal representatives of five general aviation advocacy groups outlining the limits of local control of air traffic.

The letter reads, in part: “The chief restrictions on state and local police powers arise from the exclusive federal control over the management of airspace. Local authorities long have been preempted by the federal assumption of authority in the area from prohibiting or regulating overflight for any purposes,” and, “There remains a critical role for local authorities in protecting their citizens from unwanted aircraft noise, principally through their powers of land use control. (FAA Aviation Noise Abatement Policy, Nov. 18, 1976, II(B).)”

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Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

38 COMMENTS

  1. But the vehicle traffic with ghetto blasters, loud mufflers, and drag pipes on motorcycles aren’t any issue at all.

    One of the airports in Colorado I fly to has housing developments right next to the runways and the airport itself. And yes, it’s been there almost as long as Jefco. Only a matter of time before the same fate awaits…..

    • I live 2 miles north of one GA airport and right under the final approach fix for another. I was told by the local airport manager that one person in particular complains whenever an airplane flies near her house (these airports have been in existence far longer than this person has been there. It is Ohio, where every county has at least one airport.) I decided to check out airplane noise. I went to my back yard and measure the ambient sound level, with truck and car traffic from a nearby road and when an airplane flew overhead approaching either of the two nearby airports. I measured an increase of 1.5 db over the ambient noise. That is hardly perceivable EXCEPT that we take that road noise as normal and tune it out. The airplane noise is different in pitch and relatively infrequent, so we notice what should be an imperceptible increase.

      • Interesting. I am also in Ohio, and I also live under the traffic pattern of a GA airport, and I have done this same experiment. I found that the loudness and duration of lawnmowers and weed wackers far exceed that of airplanes flying overhead. I always wanted to do a more scientific data collection on this and publish it.

      • Christopher, I recall a tv ad from long ago, which said in part, “People hear what they listen for.” So, despite the 1.5 dB increase over ambient, that lady is probably tuned in to the local airport ops with minute focus.

  2. This is rent seeking behavior by the homeowners. They bought there because it was cheap because the airport was there. Now they want to eliminate the thing that made it cheap so they can capture the increased value at the community’s expense.

    • Elton nailed the issue in three short sentences. For just a little more background though….in 1987 – when that Rock Creek subdivision began construction – there was a fully operational nuclear weapons plant (Rocky Flats) employing almost 10,000 people just two miles to the south. THAT’S why the land was so cheap. There were no other residential subdivisions anywhere close. The paint wasn’t even dry on those houses before residents started complaining about the “radiation being dumped on our children.” Nonsense of course. The Cold War ended and Rocky Flats closed in 2005. With a ritzy Boulder County location, Rock Creek home values skyrocketed (despite all that “radiation”). Now they just need to get rid of that pesky airport….

    • How many of those homes are owned by individuals vs a conglomerate who now is seeing their investment flounder? It’s worth a dig into

    • Yes, and every airport they get rid of means there will be more noise at other airports that pick up the traffic further incentivizing the people near them to complain as well.

      Developers, politicians, realtors, lawyers, they all love it. And, why do THOSE people need to fly around anyways? Why don’t they just buy a ticket like everyone else?

      We can make more quiet planes, except we can’t because we can hardly improve anything in GA thanks to a half century of bureaucracy doing what bureaucrats do unless the voters demand otherwise. Also, because the people with money to buy them or charter them mostly do not work or own live near them.

  3. How many “flight operations” in 1987? Compared with 300,000 a year now (821 a day).
    That is the problem for the airport, and the local authority which allowed the housing development.
    Unless Colorado is completely detached from the rest of the world, the end result will be that residents win, and either the airport moves, or aircraft have to follow paths away from houses, and extra noisy ones (jets from before 1990s in general) banned.

    • The airspace is federal. While the local municipality harasses pilots by setting noise limitations, usually checked by having noise monitors around the airport, the municipality is overridden by federal law. That becomes conjectural however.
      The argument about leaded fuel is gaining traction though. Complainers are watching Santa Monica and Reid-Hillview after the Santa Clara County zealots dredged up a Belgium report that stated there is a correlation between lead in the environment and children’s I.Q. levels.
      The EPA is supporting lead elimination.
      Jet’s don’t emit lead fumes, of course.

  4. All complainers must be entered in a worldwide database , and if they want to purchase an airline ticket , it must be denied !!!

    • Hear hear!!! No pun intended. While you’re at it, ANYTHING with the complainers name/address MUST travel by ground. NO next day delivery, NO drone delivery (when it happens, etc. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. No pain no gain.

      Somehow the luddite complainers need to be dragged, kicking and screaming perhaps, into modern society.

      While we’re at it, POST their names in very public places. STOP LETTING THEM HIDE behind “privacy” or whatever. Their complaints will have a very public affect (? Effect?). Let the rest of us know who to blame please.

      I’m a wannabe pilot, love seeing flying machines zoom overhead, LOVE HEARING SONIC BOOMS.

  5. It may not happen in my lifetime (I’m almost 70), but my fear is that we are eventually going to lose GA due to encroachment by the masses. The last bastions will be the rural country airfields now surrounded by crops. Money talks and we don’t have enough people and dollars in GA to do more than whisper.

    Maybe I just got up too early this morning?

    • The airports in my area that were surrounded by crops forty years ago are already closed or have been fighting lawsuits for decades.
      I talked to the man who built one of them. He politely asked all the neighboring farmers before building it. To this day, the runway is over ten degrees off the optimal heading for winds to avoid landings over a neighbor’s chicken coop.
      The owners of nearby homes (many built during the 1980’s when there was still scheduled service using Dash-7’s) continuously sue, and have been doing so for over twenty years.

  6. Einstein was correct: The only difference between genius and stupidity is genius has limits. These home owners are delusional.

  7. I am a pilot who lives and flies in the vicinity of the Rocky Mountain Metro Airport. I have attended townhall meetings in Superior, and I have heard firsthand what the residents of Rock Creek are saying to their elected officials. Many reading this story today find this lawsuit laughable, and I understand why. However, I think this event and lawsuit should serve as a warning to all GA pilots and airports everywhere.

    If the plaintiffs in this case are successful–and they are VERY dedicated to this endeavor–we will see a domino effect of lawsuits, just like it, shutting down airports nationwide. The plaintiffs are not simply looking for the elimination of leaded fuels. They want the airport removed.

    The plaintiffs are not remotely sympathetic to the benefits this airport provides to the county or city. They do not recognize the betterment the many flight schools operating there provide their community and air travel in general. In their mind, this airport only serves as a perk to the rich. To them, this is a class-warfare battle that must be won.

    Those who support the need for GA in the US will find it easy to laugh off this lawsuit, but it is going to have some very long legs if they find a sympathetic judiciary. In Colorado, the odds of that are in their favor.

    • Ironically, this ‘class warfare’ battle is between wealthy people who own homes in a pricy development and ‘wealthy’ people who operate or support GA aircraft. The latter group also includes all the underpaid flight instructors, FBO employees, maintenance shop employees, etc., people who are not exactly getting rich from their endeavors. KBKC is one of only three towered reliever airports for the Denver metro area. KAPA, a 45 minute drive on the other side of town, is already one of the busiest GA airports in the country. If KBJC goes, there’s little capacity in the rest of the system to handle those 300,000 annual operations, and none on the north side of the metro.

      • You may be right about the wealthy vs wealthy nature of this fight, but what does the average voter think? If they think it’s just for rich white men (which we by and large are), are they inclined to support us in our fights to keep airports open?

        If they support us, then the rich neighbors won’t succeed in shutting down the airport. If all a town’s voters want the airport shut down, then I don’t think we should be surprised by the outcome.

        So what are we pilots doing to win over the hearts and minds of the average voters?

    • This is what so many people are missing. We US pilots are obnoxious neighbors. We’ve done nothing to reduce our noise footprint, nothing to reduce our environmental impact, and nothing to plan for the very obvious future. The winds are against us and all we can do is mock people for buying into an airport neighborhood.

      I’d like to know if “We were here first” has ever worked, and if so, when was the last time it has. Housing prices being what they are, sprawl being what it is, a city is frequently making a smart financial decision to shut down the airport and redevelop into housing. Some might not see it as fair, but them’s the numbers. And if a vast majority of city/town residents vote for something, isn’t it the democratic responsibility of the elected pols to execute?

      Where we pilots are now, depending on technical victories year after year, is a losing proposition. As others have pointed out the suits keep coming and coming and coming. All it takes is for one suit to win and that’s the end of another airport. If we don’t have the support of the residents, then we can’t be surprised when they show us the door.

      I wish I had a solution we could adopt here. Our fleet is so many decades behind the EU one that it’s not reasonable to hope that around the corner we’ll have a dramatically reduced lead and noise footprint due to flying muffled Rotax instead of straight pipes Lyc/Conti.

      In the meantime, being nice to the neighbors, accepting that they have no legal right to curtail what happens in the air doesn’t mean

      In closing, my favorite poem to read to novice sailors:

      “Here lies Edgar Wray,
      He died defending his right of way.
      He was right, dead right, as he went along,
      But he’s just as dead as if he’d been wrong”

      The same applies here. We pilots might be technically right, and it’s not going to make the slightest difference if that’s all we have going for us.

  8. Those earliest constructed homes are now 36 years old. Any chance this is a contributing factor to home sales figures being flat? Another reason for changes in these figures is the inflated asking prices at which homes have reached in the past 3 years coupled with higher interest rates for financing. I one wouldn’t trust those claimed sales figures without verification.

    • It might sound a little crazy, but one factor in the recent skyrocketing price of housing in Colorado is the legalization of marijuana in that state. If you track housing prices versus the changes in the law, you will see a spike occurring shortly after the law went into effect. Rock Creek may not be as much of a benefactor to that trend for other reasons. They are likely cherry picking the data for equivalent “market value” to bolster their case. It’s true that some homeowners don’t want to buy near an airport or other source of industrial noise, and the housing values will reflect that. But, as another poster pointed out, the airport was over 20 years old when that housing was built, and that price difference was factored into the initial sales prices. Cheap house going in, and now you are wanting the benefit of higher prices when you try to sell? Sorry folks, you can’t have it both ways.

  9. The home owners should have NO rights if they buy near an airport period! The airport authority should have printed legal notice to be given to future home owners.

  10. If this passes, there will be no stopping a neighborhood built behind a WalMart or Costco from being sued for the leaded fuel, noise and home values…….just watch and see.

  11. Perry Mason: Mrs. McGillicuddy, when did you buy your home in Rock Creek?
    Mrs. McGillicuddy: In 1998. It was the best house we could afford.
    Mr. M: And were you aware that there was an airport nearby? Or that you were under the takeoff path of an airport?
    Mrs. McG: Well, yes, but the agent said not to worry about it.
    Mr. M: At that time, did it cross your mind that in twenty-five years, airplane activity at that airport might increase?
    Mrs. McG: Well, no, not really. It was kinda gradual, but now we want to retire to Florida and we can’t sell our house for what we need to get.
    Mr M: One last question, Mrs. McGillicuddy, and think carefully before you answer: Are you a moron?

  12. These conflicts always generate a flood of words related to fairness, morality, logic, etc. Beyond the pleasure derived from venting, all are wasted, as the outcome will be based solely on political power and money.

    Our homeowner owned & operated residential airport is incrementally becoming surrounded by non-aviation residential development, so although no serious problems have yet surfaced, they eventually will. Oddly enough, the fact our airport is in effect a component of each owner’s residential property may be our biggest defense when this happens, as the complainants advocating shutting us down will be seeking a legal “taking” of part of our homes, a more difficult task than using their voting power as a cudgel to motivate a political entity to do their bidding.

    • Yep, follow the money. I’ll bet the local realtors and land developers are supporting the civic association and egging them on in their quest for “justice”.

  13. AbWeb and/or those knowledgeable, please explain:

    “avigation easements” which, according to the FAA sample application for same, enable property owners to grant—for a fee—“appurtenance rights” and benefits to an airport “for the use and benefit of the public.”

    Who is granting whom an easement and for what?

  14. Seven miles away from KBJC is my home airport, KEIK. It’s been there a long time, but is now almost surrounded by recent housing developments. The latest developer is building more than a thousand new homes directly under the downwind leg. In my development, under the base and final legs to Rwy 34, all the homeowners had to sign an agreement at closing acknowledging that the airport was their neighbor and not to complain. The airport authority and the FAA even convinced the developer to put a park under the extended centerline of the runway. I know of at least three aircraft that have crashed in the park, with no property damage to homes or injuries to residents.

  15. Students and instructors at a military jet (Vampire) training base in the early sixties were issued orders that all were to turn up for work on a particular Saturday, working weekends was unheard of. Instructions were that flying would be circuit training only.

    CO had become aware that land abutting the airport was to be auctioned for home development on that day. Still is a military flight training base, but using turbo props (PC-21) rather than jets.

  16. “Properties offered for sale have been sitting on the market for longer than other similar properties; some potential buyers have not moved forward after visiting properties; and some properties have been sold below market value.”

    This makes no sense. Properties sitting on the market for longer than similar ones……..is that other properties near other airfields or (more likely) other local properties not near the airfield, in which case they are not similar properties at all.
    As for selling below market value, well if you sell it that is the market value on the day.
    What that paragraph describes is the market in operation as it should be.

    This foolishness seems to be universal now where much of what productive and successful people seek to do is increasingly frustrated and sabotaged by a bureaucracy that is never accountable for it’s incompetence. Join that with those who take advantages of bargains and seem to expect they are then entitled to the benefits of exclusive situations and you have this lunacy develop.
    You could print this story every 6 months and just change the place names, it’s that predictable.

  17. As a pilot and as a home owner in somewhat close proximity to a GA airport, I can say that some pilots try to ruin it for everyone. They operate with apparently no thought at all for anyone down below. On par with cars, trucks, motorcycles with loud exhausts, two stroke leaf blowers at 0600 hours and car stereos with booming base noise. Because of those inconsiderate pilot arseholes, I would not support them in any endeavors to keep the airport open, should the authorities decide to close it.

  18. One more case where an airport preceded a housing development, but people decided to build next to the airport and then start complaining about it. Can’t fix stupid.

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