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October 04, 2012

F-35 Supporters Double-Down on Property Value Claims

F-35 adRepresentatives of nine major real estate firms in Chittenden County are doubling down on a local development group's earlier claim that basing F-35 fighter jets at the Burlington airport will have no adverse effect on the value of nearby homes.

In a full-page advertisement (right) running this week in Seven Days and today in the Burlington Free Press, the realtors say their conclusion is based in part on "careful analysis of real world Vermont market transactions." The ad's signers — who include Ernie Pomerleau of Pomerleau Real Estate, Doug Nedde of Redstone, and Brian Boardman of Hicock & Boardman Realty — add that their position also rests on a controversial study issued in July by the Greater Burlington Industrial Corp.

GBIC, a nonprofit economic development organization that supports bringing the F-35 to the area, found that sales prices of homes "have not been adversely impacted" due to their location in government-designated high-noise zones near the airport. Mike Simoneau, a co-owner of Geri Reilly Real Estate, acknowledged in an interview today that the claims in the ad he signed are based largely on GBIC's July study.

Opponents of the F-35's local deployment reject GBIC's findings, with South Burlington City Council President Rosanne Greco calling the new pro-F-35 ad "bizarre."

She and real estate appraiser Steve Allen both point to the study's inclusion of the sales prices of South Burlington homes purchased through a Federal Aviation Administration demolition program. The FAA has so far bought about 90 homes in a zone adjacent to the airport at what is calculated to be "fair market value" for similar properties in nearby areas. Most of the homes sold to the FAA have been demolished because airport noise levels in the zone are judged by federal authorities to be harmful to human health.

Noting that the FAA is required to pay fair-market value, Greco said in an interview today that "GBIC is counting homes that were demolished because of noise as proof that the homes retained their value." Allen, co-owner of the South Burlington-based real estate analysis firm Brooks & ALlen, adds that "dozens of studies all reach the same conclusion — that the proximity of airport noise is damaging to property values." Only one study reaches the opposite conclusion, "and that one is by the leading proponent of basing the F-35 here," Allen says.

Simoneau defends the GBIC study, noting that home prices in South Burlington near the airport, as well as in other parts of Chittenden County, "have been increasing at the affordable end of the market." Simoneau adds that "a lot of factors go into determining value. Noise is one component, but there are many others."

Ernie Pomerleau, president of the real estate firm that bears his family name, notes that Centerpoint School, which is situated less than 100 yards from a Burlington airport runway, recently signed a 10-year lease renewal with his company. Units in the Cascades at Winooski Falls condo project have sold well, even though that part of Winooski has experienced loud airport-related noise "for decades," Pomerleau adds.

He suggests that F-35 opponents know they cannot win the debate by relying mainly on an "antimilitary point of view." They thus focus their objections on "the biggest asset everyone has — their home," Pomerleau says. But the claims F-35 foes are making about the threat of diminished property values "just don't hold up," Pomerleau declares, noting that the signers of the new ad represent firms that account for more than half of residential real estate sales in Chittenden County.

"We're not the outliers here," Pomerleau adds. "We stand with Bernie Sanders, Patrick Leahy, Peter Welch, Peter Shumlin and all the other elected officials who support the F-35." The relative economic prosperity enjoyed in Chittenden County will be jeopardized, he asserts, if the Air Force decides to base the F-35 somewhere else.

A final F-35 environmental impact assessment is expected to be issued before the end of the year. In it, the Air Force will specify where it wants the new generation of war planes to be based.

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