Class Action Lawsuit Threatened: Critics Say Airport Noise Devalues Queens Homes

A consortium of civic leaders and Queens property owners is planning to institute a class action lawsuit against the Port Authority of N.Y. & N.J. and all of the aviation companies operating out of LaGuardia Airport charging that real estate values in certain communities has been lowered due to excessive aircraft noise.
In a request made directly to State Attorney General Dennis Vacco, the Bowne Park Civic Association in Flushing calls for compensation for the devaluation on real property value due to the negative impact of aviation operations emanating from both JFK and LaGuardia airports.
Specifically the group says that real property values in Astoria, Jackson Heights, Whitestone, College Point, Flushing, Bayside and Rockaway have declined. The basis of their lawsuit is a New York Times survey of the changes in house prices around the city which appeared in the March 29, 1998 edition of the paper’s Sunday Real Estate Section.
The survey, conducted by the firm of Case, Shiller, Weiss of Cambridge, Mass., showed the changes in prices of typical single-family homes sold in 1997 compared with the previous years in New York City. What the survey — conducted along zip code lines — showed is that most of the boroughs outside of Manhattan showed slight to moderate gains in house prices, and most of Queens showed moderate to greater gains.
The only exceptions were Queens zip codes 11105, 11102, 11103, 11370, 11369 and 11371, all of which are direct flyover points for LaGuardia Airport in the western half of the Borough and which showed a decline of minus 2 percent to 0 percent in home sale prices.
In the eastern section of Queens, zip codes 11354 and 11361 also showed the same decline. The sharpest drop, however, was shown in zip codes 11356 and 11357, the northeast communities over which most planes fly over for landings at LaGuardia. These two areas had a greater decline of minus 2 percent or more in real estate value.
Similarly in south Queens, zip codes 11414 — directly adjacent to JFK Airport showed greater decline and 11435 — directly above the airport — showed a slight decline. In contrast, all of the other Queens zip codes showed increases ranging from plus 2 percent to 6 percent or more.
Joseph Fabio, the spokesperson for the civic association’s aviation committee said that among the contributory issues were the overutilization of LaGuardia’s runway 13 circular "Whitestone Climb" which he claimed "increases a devastating takeoff noise event for those within the loop of central and northeast Queens." Fabio charges that the overutilization of the Whitestone Climb is a tool used by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) to limit complaints by concentrating the most part of noise and air pollution over several communities instead of fair-sharing the load. "If they shared the load it would widen the protest. The Whitestone Climb receives 90 percent of all takeoffs from runway 13 so the impact is not being fairly shared," Fabio said.
John Procida, past president of the civic group and its aviation chairman said that "thirty-five years of complaints and corrective legislation have had little, if any, effect in halting this growing destructive impact." He added that "non-stop takeoffs have created a jet noise continuum that renders the quiet enjoyment of our churches, homes and parks impossible and is subjecting over 200,000 New York State citizens to sleep deprivation and related health risks." Procida said that huge sonic blasts between midnight and 6 a.m. are on the rise.
Fabio said that there is a childhood asthma epidemic taking place just behind runway 13 in the South Bronx, an area in which two of that borough’s zip codes also showed a decline in property values in The Times survey. The asthma rate there is 500 percent over the national average as reported in a study by Dr. Scott Schroeder, asthma specialist at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx.
Fabio said that Borough President Claire Shulman spoke of a severe asthma problem in Queens when she dedicated a mobile asthma unit for the Borough in February of this year.
The civic leaders pointed out that the federal Dept. of Transportation is currently being sued by the City of New York for violating their own limits on takeoffs and high density rules at LaGuardia. "The aviation industry is insulated from liability by several layers of legislative authority," Procida said. "The FAA, the Port Authority and certain local elected officials act as guardians and promoters of the industry to the public’s detriment," he said. The aviation industry is the Borough’s largest with thousands of employees at JFK and LaGuardia.
The airports were originally constructed (LaGuardia in 1939, JFK in 1948), when the population of Queens was smaller and when aircraft size and flight figures were significantly less than now.
The civic leaders urged Vacco to explore their proposed legal action because "the citizens of the State of New York need protection and restitution from the aviation industry which is essentially a federal business. Experience shows that the FAA and the PA act with virtual impunity."
Spokespersons for the FAA had no comment by presstime on the threatened legal action.

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