Friday is not a casual dress day for city’s legal department. Airpark court case to be heard Friday.

October 3rd, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  If you want to talk to people in the city’s legal department this week – do it today, because most of the brains in that department will be in Milton on Friday, sitting in a Courtroom hearing an application that has been made by both the city and the Burlington Executive Airpark over who gets to call the shots when it comes to changing the way land is used.

What was thought to be a sleepy little airport became a massive problem for the city

The city creates by-laws and believes everyone has to abide by the bylaws in place.  The Airpark argues that they don’t have to follow the city’s bylaws because they are regulated by the federal Department of Transportation.

The airport began making massive changes to their site about five years ago.  The city, the Region and Conservation Halton didn’t pay much attention to what was being done at what had been a sleepy little rural airport.  They understood that the airpark came under federal jurisdiction and were content to leave it at that.

When it became evident that the airpark  was being upgraded significantly the city asked then ordered the airpark management to apply for the necessary permits.

Nope said the airpark people.  There was some back and forth – the city sued them, they sued the city and it became evident that there were serious differences of opinion over how the laws the airpark were relying upon were to be interpreted.

So, back in late August, lawyers for both the city and the Airpark met in a Courtroom and agreed this had to be resolved and set October 4th as the day a judge would listen to arguments on arcane points of law.  Both the city and the airpark brought in big legal guns and for the past seven weeks have been doing their “examination for discovery”, which is that period of time when they get to ask all kinds of questions.

Each side then prepares its brief and files it with the Court.

Someone in the Court house decides which judge is going to hear the arguments and at just after 10:00 am a bailiff will call out All Rise, the Judge will enter and the game begins.

There will not be any witnesses, there won’t be any television type court room drama; just some very smart lawyers arguing important differences on what was meant when a federal law was written and how that law impacts on a different level of government.

North Burlington residents have taken it in the ear over this issue – they have put up with trucks driving up and down the roads hauling landfill.   When they found out how much fill was being taken onto the airpark site they were alarmed and made their concerns known to city hall and the regional government.

Delegations were made at both city hall and the Region during which it became evident that Burlington didn’t know what was going on and the Region didn’t appear to be at all concerned.  Some in Milton kind of like the idea of an airport being close to their part of the Region.

The residents were having none of it.  They formed an interest group and showed up everywhere they could to press their point.  Both the Region and the city got the message.

How does this kind of site alteration take place without a permit?  If you’re an airpark and federally regulated – this is what you can get away with.  The space atop that hill is where a helicopter landing is going to be located.

It quickly became very clear that the airpark people were not going to budge so the city sued.  That got us to the point where everyone is before a judge who will hear an application for an interpretation of just what the law means.  These are called judicial interpretations.

Each side, the city and the Airpark were originally given two hours to give their interpretation of what the federal law means.  When all the talking is done, the judge tells them that the decision will be reserved and in a couple of months (this won’t be a case that is decided upon in a couple of weeks) a decision will be handed down and both sides will read that decision very, very carefully.

And then you can bet the wine allowance that the side most unhappy with the decision will appeal.  There is the possibility that this case will go from the Court of Appeal to the Supreme Court.

In the meantime the Airpark development plans are frozen and that suites residents on Appleby Line and Bell School Line just fine.

One small question: Why did the city’s Community Services Committee go into Closed session to discuss a Confidential Legal department September 18th report regarding the Burlington Executive Airport?  Were the city’s lawyers seeking direction?  Was there a glitch in the case law they were relying upon to make their case.  It just seemed a little odd that there would be a Confidential report that close to the hearing date.

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