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There Goes the Entire Neighborhood

Relocation: Residents agreed to move to accommodate new runways at Louisville airport--if they could move together. A community is being built just for them.

May 30, 1999|STEVE BAILEY | ASSOCIATED PRESS

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Pat Philpott has lived in the same home for more than three decades. Naturally, she felt anxious when she learned she would have to move to make room for an airport's expansion.

That was until she found out she could take everything with her: her sofa, her television, her antique dresser--and all her neighbors.

Philpott, 58, is among nearly 300 homeowners in Minor Lane Heights who over the next several years will pack up and move about eight miles to the southeast.

It's part of an ambitious relocation plan that will keep their tiny incorporated community of about 1,700 residents at the southern edge of suburban Louisville from being dissolved.

"This community does a lot of things together--Easter egg hunts, senior citizen dinners, picnics and festivals," Minor Lane Heights Mayor Fred Williams said. "Why let go of all of that if you don't have to?"

On one side of Philpott's new home will be the family she's lived beside for nearly 30 years. On the other side will be a woman who's lived across the street for 26 years. Other current neighbors will be across the street.

"At first, I didn't want to move, not at all," Philpott said. "I've lived here a long time and raised my sons here and made some great friends. I didn't want to give all that up."

Neither did many other residents, who banded together to make sure long-standing relationships would not be razed in the same fashion as their homes.

"We've lived here for 14 years, and my parents live right next door," said 43-year-old Gerald Jackson, who along with his wife and two children will be among the first 50 families to have moved into their new homes by Thanksgiving.

"Everybody here looks out for each other like family. I couldn't imagine relocating anywhere away from a lot of these people, especially my folks," he said.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the new community was held March 28, but the process began more than five years ago when Louisville International Airport announced plans to open two new runways. That sparked outcries that the added noise would further burden thousands of already frazzled homeowners below the airport's flight path.

"From about 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., the roar is constant," Williams said. "But it's not just the noise. The airport here has a great track record, but what goes up must come down. Eventually, there's going to be some kind of disaster."

A solution was proposed: a $285-million federal and state grant program to buy out more than 3,700 area property owners so they could purchase homes in other locations.

To those who had lived in Minor Lane Heights for years, however, that wasn't good enough. They told airport officials they would agree to move on the condition that residents could move together.

"When this whole situation came up about five years ago, the phones were ringing off the hook with people asking, 'Where am I going to go?' and 'What am I going to do?' " Williams said.

"Someone proposed the idea of moving together. Right away, people started saying it couldn't be done. But our attitude was, 'Why not?' These days, you can do just about anything you want if you put your mind to it."

Some residents have taken the buyout money and moved elsewhere. But about 300 of 440 homeowners have chosen to relocate to the new city, called Heritage Creek.

"Everybody is tickled to death with this," said city clerk Jan Skeeters. "And the excitement really picked up when people started picking their lots. Even though they just see their names on a colored dot on a layout board, it's become reality."

The Federal Aviation Administration spends millions of dollars annually to help people living near airports cope with the problem of jet noise, soundproofing some houses and buying and tearing down others. The budget for the program was $200 million last year.

In this situation, the agency and the airport each chipped in $10 million to help purchase 287 acres of land at the new site.

Residents will be able to sell their property to the program to buy land in the new community, where they will move into a home comparable to the one they sold.

About 350 houses will be built in the first phase of construction, with more planned over the next several years. Williams said the three-bedroom, one-bath homes will average about 1,000 square feet, although residents will be allowed to pay more for larger lots or amenities their current homes lack.

The new city hall will be a 100-year-old building already on the property, which officials plan to begin renovating as soon as the first residents move in.

"Other than the fact they've got a lot of fond memories in those old houses," Skeeters said, "what possible downside is there?"

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