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Airport Told to Pay $86 Million for Land

Courts: Jury's ruling over dispute involving value of parcel clears another obstacle for proposed terminal at the Burbank facility.

June 09, 1999|ANDREW BLANKSTEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Clearing another hurdle for a new Burbank Airport terminal, a jury Tuesday ordered the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport Authority to pay Lockheed Martin $86 million for 130 acres next to the airport.

The sum decided by a Burbank Superior Court jury is about midway between the $128 million sought by Lockheed Martin and the $38 million offered by the airport authority.

"We argued [the airport] low-balled it," said juror Irene Noonan. "We thought it should be something in between. We needed to come to a middle ground."

During the trial, some officials speculated that a ruling in Lockheed Martin's favor would force the airport authority to reduce its terminal expansion plans or even abandon the project.

But airport officials said $86 million is within the airport's budget.

"Now we can look forward to some expedited process with Burbank," said acting airport Executive Director Dios Marrero.

The proposed replacement terminal has been the center of a legal and political battle between the airport authority and Burbank since 1995.

Burbank has sought to limit the size of the terminal to prevent a massive increase in the number of flights. Neighbors complain about the noise.

A series of developments, most notably concessions by Burbank Airport and the city of Glendale, have raised hopes that a compromise on a smaller terminal could be reached soon.

Airport lawyer Robert Crockett said the jury verdict was close to the $85 million figure the airport offered to settle the case last April.

Lockheed Martin lawyer Robert E. Willett said the site's proximity to the runways, along with increasing land values and its potential for commercial development, made it worth more than three times the price set by the airport authority.

"We are somewhat disappointed in the number," Willett said.

The airport authority maintained that the site was worth far less because of years of defense manufacturing that contaminated soil on the property and reduced the land value.

Willett argued that the contamination issue was a red herring since the land had been cleaned up. "We are glad the jury agreed with us that the property was not contaminated," he said.

Airport officials paid $37 million for the site when they seized it by eminent domain in 1997. They estimate that they owe $64 million to cover the price set by the jury, plus interest costs and attorney fees.

Crockett, however, said the airport authority could ask Superior Court Judge Carl J. West to vacate the ruling if it appears that Burbank is going to fight construction of the terminal.

"If the city of Burbank is not going to approve the airport's plan, the airport is not going to put that money at risk by paying it," Crockett said.

Willett said that scenario appeared unlikely.

"They can always abandon their lawsuit," he said. "But then they will owe Lockheed tens of millions of dollars and they have to give the property back."

Burbank City Manager Bud Ovrom said airport officials would have to wait three to four months for the city to evaluate the terminal relocation project and hold public hearings.

"We spelled out what the process would be two years ago," Ovrom said. "There's no way we can go through this in two weeks."

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