Airport Authority Board Comments on Morrisville’s draft Land Use Plan

The Board of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority sent a letter to the Morrisville Town Council Thursday expressing opposition to proposed changes in the town’s draft Land Use Plan.

You can read the letter below or by clicking here.

Oct. 15, 2020

Morrisville Town Council

100 Town Hall Drive

Morrisville, NC 27560

RE: Town of Morrisville Draft Land Use Plan

Dear Honorable Council Members:

As the Board of the Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority, we are writing to express our strong opposition to a proposed change to the Town of Morrisville’s 2009 Land Use Plan that would authorize multi-family residential development in areas within the existing Airport Overly District (AOD), exposing residents to high noise levels and frequent overflights from arriving and departing aircraft.

The draft amendment to the Land Use Plan currently under consideration would allow multi-family residential facilities, including workforce and affordable housing, in areas where development has previously been prohibited, putting Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and future residents at risk. During creation of the current Draft Land Use Plan, Authority staff have participated on the Town’s Technical Advisory Committee and worked closely with Town staff for years to educate them on the consequences of residential units within the AOD.  The proposed changes to the AOD as currently recommended are incompatible with airport operations, could expose the Authority and the Town to future legal and financial risks, and have the potential to incite backlash from the community.

RDU is currently protected from residential encroachments by the AOD. The AOD was adopted by the Town in the early 1990s after numerous homeowners sued RDU over noise complaints. The Draft Land Use Plan as written will eliminate the most important aspects of the AOD (i.e., a prohibition against residential uses in the most heavily noise impacted areas in Morrisville). To illustrate the point, an arbitration panel in 1992 awarded damages to dozens of local homeowners who had sued RDUAA over noise impacts associated with aircraft overflights.

The City of Chicago was a recent defendant in a lawsuit over noise from Chicago O’Hare International Airport where the plaintiffs sought millions in damages. The lawsuit was dismissed after years of litigation and millions of dollars in litigation costs. Similar lawsuits have been filed in Boston, suburban New York, Seattle, Los Angeles and elsewhere. Denver International Airport was recently ordered to pay almost $50 million in damages for violation of community noise standards and is facing additional claims. A lawsuit over noise impacts in San Diego is pending. RDU cannot afford to engage in similar costly legal battles.

Authorizing residential uses in the AOD could also entangle RDU and the Town of Morrisville in public controversies related to the long-term need for further airport development. As an example, in September 2020, the City Council in Columbia, SC was considering a rezoning request that would allow a developer to build homes under the flight path of the Jim Hamilton-L.B. Owens Airport. The issue has drawn the airport, neighbors, council members and developers into a dispute over zoning practices and the need to protect the airport from incompatible land uses.

RDU has been a good neighbor to Morrisville and the broader region, working to responsibly balance the demand for increased air service with the concerns of nearby communities. Through the cooperative efforts of the FAA, airlines and the community, RDU has seen – and more importantly heard – results from its noise abatement efforts, yet the Authority still receives regular noise inquiries and complaints from residents outside the current AOD.

Properly developed noise overlay zones, like those in the vicinity of RDU, are designed to anticipate future noise impacts so that incompatible development does not creep in closer to the airport in a manner that local governments and area residents come to regret. When the overlay zones were established around RDU, local officials, aided by noise experts and attorneys, had the foresight to anticipate future changes at the airport. Communities that reduce the size of the airport overlay district are virtually ensuring that they will be subjected to contentious community pressure in coming years.

RDU remains one of the few airports in the nation with a successful partnership between local zoning and airport noise restrictions and is often recognized for its 40 years of successful noise compatibility efforts. We urge you to reject changes to the AOD that would effectively abandon efforts that have made the region a model for the nation in balancing economic development and quality of life.

The Research Triangle region is well-positioned to recover from the pandemic and when it does, RDU must be prepared to support that growth and meet the air service demands of the community it serves.

The Authority seeks to be a good partner with its neighbors and avoid conflicts that run counter to the best interests of the community at large.


John Kane

Chairman, Raleigh-Durham Airport Authority Board

cc: The Honorable TJ Cawley, Mayor

The Honorable Liz Johnson, Mayor Pro Tem

The Honorable Anne Robotti, Council Member

The Honorable Donna L. Fender, Council Member

The Honorable Vicki Scroggins-Johnson, Council Member

The Honorable Steve Rao, Council Member

The Honorable Satish Garimella, Council Member

Martha Paige, Town Manager