Officials for the Dayton International Airport are trying to alleviate concerns after announcing intentions to redevelop part of Paul Knoop Prairie for industrial use.

Dayton claims slander, sues in prairie land fight

The city of Dayton filed a lawsuit accusing the city of Union of interfering with its controversial plan to sell most of the Paul E. Knoop Jr. Prairie by the Dayton airport to be redeveloped.

In a complaint this week, the city of Dayton says Union deliberately tried to “cast a cloud over Dayton’s title” to 110 acres of prairie land to get the potential buyer to back out of a purchase contract.

Dayton claims Union “slandered” its title and rights to sell the land for redevelopment by filing an official affidavit to try to get the buyer to instead purchase property in Union for an industrial project.

MORE: Dayton plans for prairie development draw more protests

“The city is party to a contract to sell a piece of property adjoining the airport for a planned development,” said Barbara Doseck, Dayton’s law director. “Our immediate goal is to have the affidavit of facts filed by the city of Union alleviated.”

Requests for comment from Union City Manager John Applegate were not returned.

Many people and some groups strongly oppose the redevelopment of the prairie, which they say could harm an important watershed that extends south and serves as an important habitat for insects, birds and wildlife.

“There certainly seems to be a lot of deep concerns from numerous perspectives regarding the city’s plan to destroy the Paul Knoop Prairie and the Wiles Creek watershed and headwaters,” said Alexis Faust, executive director of Aullwood Audubon, which has part of the creek come through its property.

The city of Dayton has a real estate purchase contract for 110 acres of Knoop Prairie, which is located at Frederick Pike and West National Road. NorthPoint Development has been building massive industrial facilities on property around Dayton International Airport.

But the purchase contract provides options for the buyer to delay closing and potentially terminate the contract if issues arise that affect the title to the property or its right to redevelop the land, said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein in a notarized affidavit in support of a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction filed against Union.

The prospective buyer has exercised its option to delay closing because of an affidavit Union attached to the title, and the company has investigated several alternative sites, including properties owned by Union and Dayton, Dickstein said.

Dayton’s complaint alleges Union’s affidavit violated the terms of an agreement the cities reached in 2016 to resolve a dispute about land in Butler Twp. both cities wanted to annex.

MORE: Dayton considers land sale, development deal at airport

Applegate’s affidavit, filed in mid-June, says the prairie property that Dayton acquired must be used only for “necessary airport operations,” such as a runway extension, and cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Union breached “good faith,” “fair dealing” and other terms of the annexation agreement, and Union has failed its “duty” to help facilitate quality economic development in Dayton, according to complaint seeking a declaratory judgment and an injunction filed in Montgomery County Common Pleas Court.

“They filed the affidavit,” said Doseck, Dayton’s law director. “This is our response to that.”

Dayton is seeking an injunction against Union, as well as damages related to a delayed closing, litigation and reduced marketability and value of the property. City officials say they are worried the buyer will select a property outside of the region.

“If the prospective purchaser terminates the contract with Dayton and chooses another site outside the Greater Metropolitan Dayton area, the entire region would be harmed, and no amount of certain or definable monies could adequately compensate Dayton for the damage caused by Union’s actions,” Dickstein said.

Dayton’s complaint is the latest development in an ongoing dispute over the prairie property.

Dayton’s proposal to sell most of the prairie has drawn strong condemnation from supporters of Aullwood Audubon, whose creek begins in the prairie, as well as from conservationists and some area residents.

More than 100 people have spoken at Dayton commission meetings to urge the city to stop the sale and redevelopment of the site.

At Wednesday’s commission meeting, seven people took the podium to ask the city to stop the sale and “save” the prairie.

“Is this the legacy that you really wish to create — which will last long after your term as elected officials and airport management and well beyond your remaining days on Earth,” said Donna Hinkle, a Dayton resident.

She later added, “If you have any power and authority to preserve the prairie — I beg you, please do.”

Prairie supporters say the proposed industrial project can be constructed on many nearby properties and that losing one of the state’s oldest reconstructed prairies would be tragic.

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