Airport runway protection expansion takes several homes on Sunrise Drive

Published 9:22 am Monday, October 6, 2014

Photo by Brandon Hicks

For generations, Sunrise Drive in Stoney Creek has been a place a number of families have called home. Now, about a dozen of them are having to say goodbye.
They’re looking for new homes because of the expansion of the neighboring runway protection zone at the Elizabethton Municipal Airport.
In April, Elizabethton Municipal Airport Manager Dan Cogan told the Elizabethton Airport Commission that 12 parcels with eight owners would be affected by the expansion.
He explained during that meeting by clearing all of the parcels in the zone at the end of the runway, the airport would be able to use its full length. Currently, the farthest point of the runway isn’t open for use because of the homes in the runway protection zone.
For some of those living in the affected zone, the thought of moving is more difficult than for others.
One of those is Linda Ayers. She’s lived on Sunrise Drive for more than 70 years, and in her current home at 224 Sunrise Drive for 48 years.
She believes her home and the one next door were the first two built on the street.
“I have lived here for most of my life, except for five or six years,” Ayers said. “This is home. It was my grandfather’s house, and my parents lived right across the road.”
Ayers’ property is directly across from the end of the runway, giving her a clear view of the airplanes as they come in for landing and as they take off. It also means the airplanes fly directly over her home as they approach and leave the airport.
She said she had heard “gossip” for years that the runway protection zone would be cleared and that she would have to leave her family home, but nothing ever came of it.
“Twenty-two years ago we heard about it, then 10 years ago there was more talk about it,” she said. “Now it’s happening.”
Ayers said the realization she would be leaving is “heartbreaking.”
“It’s a hard deal,” she said. “This was my grandfather’s property. He left it to me out of love and now it’s being taken from me. There are memories here. I was their first grandchild so I stayed at their house more than I stayed at my own, probably.”
Sitting on her front porch with her dog, Tootie, Ayers reminisced about some of her childhood memories. She pointed to a few houses up the street and noted there used to be a mill on the property where her grandfather would take corn to have it ground into meal. On her property, she said there was also a playhouse where she spent a lot of time.
“It was just life,” she said. “I remember playing with the kids on the road and going to school here. I would go with Papaw to the mill. Just everyday things.”
After being notified the expansion was taking place, Ayers said appraisers came out to visit to make an offer to several homeowners – the amount they would receive for their property. She said after the offer was received they could accept the deal or not, and then try to work out a better deal if they didn’t accept.
“I’ve not accepted,” she said. “It’s just not enough.”
Robert Johnson, another Sunrise Drive resident, said Ayers’ home had been declared “the tallest structure on the flight path.”
He said the news of the zone expansion and property collection hadn’t been met with approval from several of the Sunrise Drive residents.
“Everyone is upset but just a few,” Johnson said. “Everything here is home.”
Ayers’ neighbor, Jerry Proffitt, who lives at 220 Sunrise Drive, is preparing to move to a new home, but said the whole experience has been “hectic.”
“We found out in February or March,” Proffitt said. “It has been kind of hectic since then.”
Proffitt, like Ayers, had heard talk of the project before, but didn’t expect it to be happening now. He has lived on Sunrise Drive for 22 years.
“We expected it would be needed, but not while I was living here,” he said.
He said when owners were informed their property would be taken, he started to look for a new home. Even though the property owners had known for a while, he said, the delay in finding out what they would be paid for their properties had caused problems in relocating.
“It has been really rough because we only found out two weeks ago what we would get for our homes,” he said. “We couldn’t purchase anything before because we didn’t know what we would get and we didn’t have the money. We were looking and we did locate several (homes) but they are all gone now, so now we are back to the start of either buying a new home or building a new home.”
Proffitt said he was also “in a pickle” because he was just elected to the Carter County Commission to represent the First District, and must remain living in that district to keep his seat.
“If I leave, that has to end because I have to resign,” he said. “I have to live in the district I represent.”
Once the homeowners accept their offers, Proffitt said they have three months to leave their homes.
“It is hard to build a home in three months,” he said. He added he has a contractor in mind for the project, but before that service could be lined up, property would have to be bought. He said the financing process relied on the money he would receive from his home.
“I have lived here for 22 years,” Proffitt said. “I am not looking forward to leaving. There is no other course but to accept it. Relocating is hard to do. I’m optimistic about it, but there is still so many things we have to do.”
Ayers said if property owners can’t meet the three-month deadline, they can ask for two one-month extensions. If they have not left after the extensions, then she said they would be charged rent for remaining on the properties.
“Isn’t that something?” she said.
Ayers said she hasn’t had a chance to start looking for a new home.
Family members had offered to take her to look, she added, but health problems have kept her from being able to go.
“You sort of get your life settled down and you want to enjoy it,” she said. “So much for that. When you get older, you just don’t have the strength for this.”
In April, Cogan told the Airport Commission the first closings in the property acquisition process were expected to take place this fall with the last one to be completed after the start of the new year.
Attempts to reach Cogan for comments Friday before press time were unsuccessful.

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