DIA, Aurora agree to pause lawsuit over new homes near future runway

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Proposed plans for the Highpoint at DIA development. Image taken from the Dec. 16, 2019 Aurora City Council Meeting Agenda Packet.

AURORA | An Adams County District Court Judge last month granted a three-month stay in a lawsuit between Denver International Airport, the city of Aurora and a large-scale developer over the latter’s ability to build new homes near a forthcoming airport runway.

All parties named in the lawsuit – the state’s largest airport, the entirety of Aurora city council and Westside Investment Partners — filed a joint motion Feb. 26 to pause the litigation, according to Emily Williams, spokeswoman for Denver International Airport. 

“(Denver International Airport) is working closely with Aurora and Westside on a potential settlement agreement and hopes to reach a resolution soon,” Williams wrote in an email. “DEN appreciates Aurora’s and Westside’s partnership to protect current and future airport operations as well as the citizens of Aurora.”

A judge granted the motion to stay for 90 days, according to Julie Patterson, spokeswoman for the City of Aurora. 

The lawsuit filed in late January alleges Aurora city council members and the head of the city’s planning department abused their authority when they signed off on a zoning code change that would permit the development of homes within half a mile of a planned runway on the south side of the airport.

Despite receiving strong opposition from residents and the city’s own planning and zoning commission, council members on Dec. 16 approved an ordinance that tweaks the zoning of a 98-acre parcel of land just south of DIA. The measure allows Westside to construct residential homes on the plot as part of the High Point at DIA development, a sprawling project expected to eventually consist of 3,000 homes spread across 1,800 acres in Denver and Aurora.

Attorneys for the airport had asked the city to strike the new ordinance from city code, claiming the council abused their authority and surpassed their jurisdiction in adopting the zoning change. 

The new code went into effect Feb. 8. 

In a response filed late last month, Aurora city attorneys asked the court to toss the lawsuit “for lack of standing, ripeness, mootness and lack of subject matter jurisdiction,” according to court documents. 

“The complaint fails to show a currently justiciable issue or an existing legal controversy between the parties and is, therefore, not ripe for the court to hear,” attorneys wrote.

If the lawsuit were to continue, Aurora attorneys also asked to move the litigation from Adams County District Court to Arapahoe County.

In the original complaint, Denver city attorneys painted Aurora lawmakers as deceitful for ostensibly allowing the construction of more homes near the airport as a separate suit filed in Jefferson County District Court alleges the airport is already violating noise protocols for residents currently living near the transit hub.

“Aurora finds itself asserting, on the one hand, concerns about noise levels at locations over four-miles from DEN, while on the other hand, approving single-family detached residential development less than one mile from DEN’s planned seventh runway, which would expose those residents to much higher noise levels,” attorneys wrote.

In a statement, Aurora City Attorney Dan Brotzman said the Jefferson County suit is still being evaluated by the court. Brotzman said the suit was prepared in conjunction with Adams County, Brighton and Thornton to recoup noise violation fines outlined in a 1988 agreement between several Front Range entities.

The 1988 Agreement requires Denver to install noise monitoring equipment and remedy violations or make a payment of $500,000 for each violation not remedied,” Brotzman wrote. “In 2005, Denver paid $26,500,000 to Adams County and cities for violations of these noise provisions. Even after that lawsuit and settlement Denver failed to install adequate monitoring equipment and did not remedy violations. The current lawsuit identifies 67 violations of which 24 were in Aurora.

If the parties fail to come to an agreement in the coming weeks, a judge will have to rule at the end of May on the status of the recently granted stay.