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Family pleads with Salt Lake City Council to buy its property and end a 12-year condemnation battle near the Tooele airport

(Steve Griffin | Tribune file photo) File photo shows the Salt Lake City Council meeting on February 6, 2018.

Salt Lake City has battled the family of the late Dick Kunz Sr. for 12 years because of low-flying planes taking off and landing over their homes near the Tooele Valley Airport — which the capital city owns.

The Kunz family just wants it to end, and pleaded Friday for the city council to buy all of its homes and land near the airport, saying aircraft operations have ruined their homes and land for habitation.

“It’s just not acceptable,” Neil Kunz said. “It’s devalued my property. There is no one I can sell my property to other than the airport.”

He added, “It’s hard to sleep when at 3 a.m. I can get woke up by a plane flying overhead.... It has made the property incompatible for residential use.... We need the airport to buy us out,.”

Operation plans now allow airplanes to fly as low as 10 feet above some homes owned by his extended family near the end of runways, Kunz said. His brother, Dick Kunz Jr., even rolled out a tape measure to demonstrate how short that distance is — stretching only from the witness table to the stand where council members sat Friday during the special meeting.

The council has attempted to use its condemnation power on Kunz land to limit the height of buildings near the airport through what are called flight easements. But five months ago, a 3rd District Court judge dismissed condemnation proceedings, ruling that the city had not properly followed the due process requirements.

Council members on Friday passed a resolution that would authorize the city to renew its condemnation efforts but — at the same time — would allow Salt Lake City to purchase the Kunz family’s property if the parties can negotiate a reasonable price.

Obstacles remain. The family’s attorney, Robert E. Mansfield, argued the city has improperly used 12-year-old appraisals in making offers on some of the land.

He urged the council on Friday to authorize purchase of all the family land — by condemnation if needed — and use the courts as necessary to determine a fair price. “If can’t agree on value, that’s what the courts are for.”

The family has also considered fighting in court over the use of the city’s condemnation power so far outside of its boundaries as illegal, Mansfield said, but it would forgo that option if the city would acquire all of the property at a fair price.

Salt Lake City owns three airports: the Salt Lake City International Airport (which is undergoing a $3.6 billion rebuild); the South Valley Regional Airport in West Jordan; and the Tooele Valley Airport.

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