Deal For Airport Houses Crash Lands

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For at least a decade there's been turbulence over the expansion of Cleveland Hopkins International Airport. But two years ago, it looked like the matter was settled. A land swap deal between Cleveland and Brookpark was reached that included a promise to buy about 300 homes in the path of a proposed new runway. Now airport officials say world events like terrorism and the economy have forced a delay in their construction plans. However, some home owners were already packing boxes when the news reached their mailboxes.

Mike Yushak plucks weeds from the driveway of his modest Brookpark home - which is under the flight path of Hopkins' main runway - while his small dogs keep him company. Yushak's home was to be among the first to be purchased. He thinks the Mayor of Cleveland is being dishonest.

Mike Yushak: We do have a biding contract between Cleveland and Brookpark and Miss Campbell isn't living up to her specifications. She brings on that New York 9/11 or something like that, that's a bunch of crap, that don't have anything to do with our contract with what's going on over here, it hasn't got anything to do with it. All these people have been doing is lying.

The 82-year-old says he's in a bind because he already spent money to build a new house.

Mike Yushak: I already bought one, and I'm paying for it too. And I got this one here and now I don't want to be in here since they riled all us up and everything else, who the hell wants to live here.

Dorothy Johnson does.

Dorothy Johnson: That's what we wanted when we moved in eight years ago, we were gonna retire right here, nice neighborhood, we like it.

Johnson lives next door to Yushak. She hoped never to leave her attractive and well-cared for home. And now that Cleveland has backed out of the agreement, she may have at least another 10 years in her Brookpark neighborhood. The delay is bittersweet however. Johnson says she won't enjoy living with an uncertain future.

Dorothy Johnson: I would just like to know one way or the other: are we stayin' or are we leavin'.

A couple of years ago the public was told Hopkins desperately needed a third runway to stay competitive and meet demand. Cleveland's Law Director Subodh Chandra says the city still wants another runway. But Cleveland also has the right to put its plans in a holding pattern.

Subodh Chandra: A deal is deal yes, but the deal itself said that the money for the acquisitions would come from airline revenue. So when there is no airline revenue what do you do? The parties didn't contemplate that.

Chandra hopes Cleveland and Brookpark homeowners can work something out, but if not, he thinks Cleveland has a strong legal argument for making property owners wait.

Subodh Chandra: A deal is a deal but there are circumstances in the law which parties are excused from performance. And what could be more dramatic terrorist attacks, the continuing threat of terrorist attacks, two wars, SARS and everything that has happened to decimate the airline industry. What reasonable person would say, oh well ignore all that and somehow drive your self into financial problems. By continuing to stick to the letter, the four corners of the agreement.

Mark Elliot: As far as the City of Brookpark is concerned, the City of Cleveland is in breach of that agreement.

Mark Elliot is the mayor of Brookpark.

Mark Elliot: The City of Brookpark has done nothing wrong. We've lived up to every end of the bargain, of the agreement and are asking Cleveland to do the same.

Negotiations are required before the case can go to court. Angry home owners don't see how they can lose a legal argument. But at least one legal expert is not so sure. Michael Merman is the former law director for the City of Lakewood and past president of the Cuyahoga County Law Director's Association. He says judges don't like to force people or cities to buy things they can't afford, that's why a ruling could go either way.

Michael Merman: Judges have extraordinary power when it comes to enforcing contracts they are bound by the law but they get to interpret the law.

The only thing Merman is sure of is that no one could have predicted the future.

Michael Merman: It is an interesting case, it's funny in the sense of irony that the sides are flipped the same people that are saying we've got have it, we've got to do it, your standing in the way of progress, it's all inevitable, that's the same today that are saying. Wait a second I don't think we can do it, you can't make us do it.

Cleveland Law Director Subodh Chanda says the city is willing to examine each homeowners' situation on a case-by-case basis. But the city may not have any financial obligation since the airport is run as a separate enterprise. The airport contract calls for a resolution period which ends in October. If nothing is settled, the issue will land in court. For the time being however, Brookpark residents will remain in their homes pending either a favorable legal settlement, or an unforeseen economic boom. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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