Generally, when airports offer communities buyouts for noise abatement, residents move away and the community ceases to exist, both physically and socially. However, one city in Kentucky decided to do things differently and relocate their entire town to a new location.
Throughout the 1990s, Louisville’s airport was expanding and offered voluntary buyouts to residents and businesses within the airport’s 65 Ldn (day-night average sound level) contour. Between 1991 and 1997, over 3,500 homes were bought-out through the Louisville Airport Improvement Program and Voluntary Residential Relocation Program. The extensive number of relocations began to put strain on the metropolitan area’s housing market, creating a shortage of homes that relocating families could afford. In response to this issue, one community slated for relocation, the City of Minor Lane Heights, developed legislation to allow its citizens, businesses, and institutions to move away from the airport together to a new location approximately four miles southwest. Never before had a community made a request to the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to relocate together. Working together, city leaders, airport administrators, FAA officials, and state legislators created a program, gathered funding, and drafted legislation that would allow the community to relocate together.
The Airport Authority and city leaders developed the Heritage Creek Program as an alternative to the pre-existing relocation programs. The airport helped identify appropriate property and the Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation to allow the move. The project was funded through FAA and Airport Authority grants, with which the Louisville Airport Authority purchased a 287-acre farm, known as Heritage Creek, and reimbursed families from Minor Lake Heights to purchase new homes in Heritage Creek. The majority of Minor Lake Heights residents accepted the airport’s buyout offer and moved to Heritage Creek, which currently has approximately 425 single-family dwellings. For the 25 occupied homes that remained in the old community, the offer to accept a buyout and move to the new community remains in effect. Additionally, the new City of Heritage Creek is not restricted to former Minor Lake Heights residents.
- Jet noise is a serious nuisance to residents and businesses living near landing strips. While sound insulation helps in some situations, acquisition of property is also a solution. To abate noise nuisance, airports commonly offer voluntary buyouts to property owners within a set average sound level contour.
- Home and business owners who accept buyouts traditionally move on their own to anywhere they please. However, a shortage of affordable homes in Louisville motivated one eligible community to try a different approach. The City of Minor Lake Heights decided to move their entire community to a nearby undeveloped farm and to work with homebuilders to build new homes that were comparable to those left behind in terms of price, size, and amenities.
- A $10 million FAA Innovative Financing Grant, matched with $10 million from the local Airport Authority, funded the project – purchasing a nearby farm, building infrastructure, and paying for the buyouts.
- Most homes in Minor Lake Heights were valued at $50,000-$60,000 if airport noise was not an issue. The relocation program agreed to buy each home and sell the owner a lot at Heritage Creek. The owner could then use the remaining money to build a new home on the lot. Generally, people were able to buy a larger lot and build a slightly larger home with the money they received from the buyout.
- To recoup some of its investment, the local Airport Authority razed the abandoned town and resold some of the land to businesses that need to be near the airport.
Process (gov’t agencies involved)
- The Louisville Airport Authority offered property owners impacted by noise voluntary buyouts to relocate. Usually this is done on an individual-basis, not as a community.
- The small city of Minor Lake Heights crafted an alternative relocation strategy that would keep the city together and preserve the social fabric of the community often lost when individuals move on their own. The Mayor and City Council went door-to-door investigating the possibility of moving the entire city before proposing legislation that would allow that to happen.
- The Kentucky General Assembly passed legislation proposed by the community to allow them to create a new town and relocate together.
- The City of Minor Lake Heights officially annexed the Heritage Creek area for its new city. The official name of the municipality is now “City of Heritage Creek.”
- Although most of the original residences have been razed, the old city area is now home to several businesses that serve the airport, and contribute to the local tax base.
- The Kentucky General Assembly had to pass legislation to allow for the relocation of an entire city and the annexation of the newly purchased land.
- There was some push-back from residents near the rural Heritage Park area, but legal action to stop the development failed.
As an alternative to typical buyout programs used by airports, the Louisville Airport, FAA, City of Minor Lake Heights, and State of Kentucky worked together to help an entire community relocate together. Strong leadership from the mayor and city council drove the process, but the success of the project came from the cooperative effort on the part of all government agencies involved. When all stakeholders are able to come to the table at the same time and work together, relocation of communities can be an efficient and smooth process.
A framework for cooperation between multiple levels of government to allow for the relocation of a community facilitates the process and fosters cooperation. It is helpful to establish such a framework to understand concerns at different levels and assign responsibility appropriately. Annexation of the new community provides an opportunity for the original jurisdiction to maintain some control over new uses on both the new land and in the old city footprint. This may be a way for the jurisdiction to collect taxes to fund the changes, both pre and post relocation – as well as from businesses or vacation rentals that locate where it is no longer safe for full-time residents. This may be a way to off-set some of the costs of relocation. In other areas, there may be a possibility of setting up wetland mitigation banks (or carbon banks) on the old land if restored to wetlands. This could also generate funding for infrastructure in the new community.
Jon M. Woodward, Lisa Lassman Briscoe, Paul H. Dunholte. Aircraft Noise: A Toolkit for Managing Community Expectations, Volume 15. http://books.google.com/books?id=w5XkBKVMDnoC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=heritage%20creek&f=false
Research supported by a grant from the Kresge Foundation.