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Homeowners Upset Over O’Hare Noise Win Property Tax Appeals

The air traffic control tower is seen behind the departures level of Terminal 2 at O'Hare International Airport. (Photo credit: Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images)

The air traffic control tower is seen behind the departures level of Terminal 2 at O’Hare International Airport. (Photo credit: Mira Oberman/AFP/Getty Images)

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CHICAGO (STMW) – Residents of three choice Northwest Side neighborhoods have won property tax appeals — of up to nearly 12 percent — after arguing that the value of their homes has taken a nose dive due to new flight patterns at O’Hare International Airport.

Those new flight paths — begun last fall to reduce airport delays and increase capacity — could end up cutting tax bills for even more homeowners, as tax assessors in Cook and DuPage counties study whether a subsequent increase in jet noise has lowered property values.

In March, the Cook County Board of Review notified three jet-noise-weary Chicago homeowners — in the Indian Woods, Sauganash and North Park neighborhoods — that they had won reductions in the assessed value of their homes. All three told the Chicago Sun-Times that their sole basis of appeal was new O’Hare jet noise, although the Board of Review also automatically studies comparable properties and sales when deciding appeals.

Two of the three won reductions after merely making impassioned pleas online, without an attorney. That included North Park homeowner Joel Frankel, 59, who won an 11.8 percent reduction.

“It was remarkably simple,’’ Frankel said. “If the whole community did this, [Mayor Rahm Emanuel] … would say `Oh my god! What’s happening to my tax base?’”

However, large-scale reductions in taxes could mean other property owners would have to pick up the slack, former Ald. Dick Simpson warned.

“People who aren’t in the sound area could get mad that they are going to have to pay more taxes because other people are getting reductions,’’ said Simpson, now a professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The property-tax-appeal strategy is the latest salvo from Northwest Side residents infuriated by new jet noise that accompanied an Oct. 17 change in flight patterns at O’Hare.

On that date, the airport launched its fourth parallel runway as part of the O’Hare Modernization Program and began sending 70 percent of air traffic on an east-to-west path.

That’s when “the gates of hell opened,’’ Frankel said. “It was as if you changed a two-lane street to an eight-lane highway over our house.”

The decision turned a runway that parallels Thorndale Avenue into the airport’s busiest arrival pathway — often with an approach from the lake and then directly west over the city — rather than the diagonal approach over the suburbs once commonly used. All overnight arrivals also now enter O’Hare on the Thorndale runway 70 percent of the year. That includes large, and often noisy, cargo planes, residents say.

“This morning at 4:03 a.m. I was awakened by a cargo plane that seemed like it was going to land directly on my house,’’ Diane Yost, 67, of Sauganash, said last week.

Yost presented the most research of the three homeowners. Armed with runway maps and newspaper articles, she showed up alone for her “day in court” at the Board of Review and won an 8 percent break on her home’s assessed value.

Yost and her two fellow winning appellants are members of the Fair Allocation in Runways coalition, which advocates a more equitable distribution of runway usage. FAIR did not organize the property tax appeal effort, but one of its leaders, Robert Murphy, said he hopes it will finally persuade Emanuel to meet with the group.

Appeals based on airport noise should show the mayor that “people are serious about taking action,” Murphy said.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire © Chicago Sun-Times 2014. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)