Cleveland Accused of Backing Out of Airport Land Buy

CLEVELAND (CN) – A suburb claims in court that Cleveland reneged on an agreement reached 16 years ago to buy property for the expansion of Hopkins International Airport.

Brook Park, Ohio, sued Cleveland for breach of contract, specific performance and declaratory judgment on Tuesday in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas. The suburb is represented by Cleveland attorney Steven Kaufman.

“This tale of two cities, where a long-term peace was thought to be achieved 20 years ago, has re-emerged with a fresh dispute arising from Cleveland’s betrayal of its promises to the city and residents of Brook Park,” the complaint begins.

Twenty years ago, according to the lawsuit, Cleveland sought an expansion of the airport with a third runway that “would have knifed straight through a residential neighborhood” in Brook Park.

Brook Park claims its residents felt threatened that Cleveland would take over their properties via eminent domain.

At the same time, the two cities waged a battle in court over Brook Park’s attempt to buy the International Exposition, or I-X Center, which is located between Hopkins International Airport and Brook Park.

Finally in 2001, the parties reached a deal on several issues, including the airport, the I-X Center and access to the NASA Glenn Research Center.

Part of the agreement, in exchange for Brook Park dropping its bid to buy the convention center, was the establishment of a residential acquisition program, or RAP, in which Cleveland “was required to offer to purchase the homes in the path of the third runway,” according to the lawsuit.

But a third of those homeowners claim Cleveland never offered to buy their homes, leading to this week’s lawsuit.

“Brook Park files this lawsuit because Cleveland failed to abide by the terms of the settlement agreement and many election agreements that Cleveland signed with Brook Park homeowners who have waited patiently—and still wait—for Cleveland to honor the obligations it committed to in the settlement agreement,” the complaint states.

Cleveland Law Director Barbara Langhenry said in a statement Thursday, “Cleveland has fully complied with its agreements with Brook Park and is prepared to vigorously defend against the claims made in this lawsuit.”

Brook Park claims that Cleveland signed the agreement in 2001 but it did not start purchasing properties until three years later.

The lawsuit also alleges that while Cleveland bought properties in four of the six zones in the RAP area, it failed to buy properties in the other two zones.

“Cleveland has offered a number of excuses for stopping the RAP before completing Zones 5 and 6,” the lawsuit states. “None of them negates Cleveland’s plans in the late 1990’s to build a third runway over top of a residential neighborhood in Brook Park or Cleveland’s obligations to do what it said it would do to convince Brook Park to give up its effort to purchase the I-X Center.”

In 2008, Brook Park Mayor Mark Elliott signed a memorandum of understanding with Ricky Smith, the director of the Cleveland Department of Port Control, according to the lawsuit. Brook Park is now asking for a declaration that the memorandum, which would allegedly make the property purchases optional, is null and void.

“In violation of the settlement agreement, neither Cleveland nor Brook Park executed the MOU with governmental consent,” the lawsuit claims. “Neither of the municipal governments of Cleveland nor Brook Park mustered the approvals necessary to enter into such a contract.”

Brook Park officials had no further comment.

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