A legal battle between Langley Township and a Langley Airport tenant includes accusations of an illegal suite, harassment, and teens riding Segways onto active runways.
Companies controlled by Howard Nielsen, including Airside Events, leased a hangar at the Langley Regional Airport from 2013 to this summer, when the Township changed the locks and started proceedings to terminate the lease.
Airside’s lawyers have filed a court petition attempting to stop the Township from ending the lease and seizing the site, which includes both an old hangar and a new one, which Airside received a permit for in 2017 and built in 2019.
Airside’s claim, filed on Sept. 23, says that it has been a model tenant, paying its lease on time and maintaining the site properly.
However, the Township’s response says that Airside allowed a youth group to sublet the space for years despite repeated complaints from airport management, that they operated an illegal residential suite in the hangar, and that Nielsen often failed to respond to Township requests for information or access to inspect the site.
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None of the claims by Airside or the Township have been proven in court.
According to Airside’s petition, in late 2013 Nielsen and his wife were looking for a place to store a small aircraft that Neilsen and his family used recreationally. They leased the hangar in November of that year.
Around the same time, Nielsen was introduced to Youth Unlimited, a faith-based youth service and mission group that runs a number of programs for at-risk young people around the Lower Mainland.
By 2014, Nielsen had met with the Langley Chapter director, Daniel Ferguson, and since Nielsen was using only a portion of the hangar to store a single plane, allowed Youth Unlimited to use the front area and the hangar office for weekly youth events.
Nielsen’s petition claims that the airport management, including Guy Miller, who was the then-airport manager, were aware of the arrangement and approved of it at least verbally, comparing it to the Air Cadets program. Two Youth Unlimited employees worked out of the hangar office full-time, according to Nielsen’s petition.
Youth Unlimited would operate from the hangar from the fall of 2014 until Aug. 2020, when the Township changed the locks and repossessed the site.
“Between 2014 and the termination of the lease, no one on behalf of the Township ever told [Youth Unlimited’s] Ferguson that the Youth Unlimited operation at the old Hangar was unlawful or illegal, or asked them to vacate the premises,” the petition says.
Airside acknowledged that there was a residential suite built into the old hangar by a previous tenant, and that it had been occupied for about 10 months on one occasion, but contends that the airport’s zoning allows for residential uses.
The Township’s response has a very different version of events, saying Airside was only allowed to use the site for aircraft repair, overhaul, and storage under the terms of the lease.
“The Township had serious concerns with Youth Unlimited’s use of the premises,” the Township’s legal response says.
“Not only was this a clear breach of the lease, but there were significant safety concerns associated with having a youth group operating out of such an active and busy airport.”
Airport management spoke to Nielsen about relocating Youth Unlimited multiple times over the years, and each time were assured that the situation was temporary and that Youth Unlimited was looking for a new location.
The Youth Unlimited activities sometimes caused safety issues at the airport, the Township alleges.
The most serious of these incidents took place on July 17, 2019 when several other airport tenants reported that teens were riding Segways in restricted areas, including riding them across an active runway.
There were also multiple large gatherings that affected internal airport traffic and three times, Youth Unlimited Staff and teens worked on art projects in restricted airport zones, according to the Township.
In addition, the Township claims that on three separate occasions, in 2016, 2018, and when the site was seized in 2020, it was discovered that tenants were living in the hangar’s suite illegally.
The Township also alleges there was an unapproved sub-lease to the Langley Flying Club starting in June 2020.
Finally, the Township claims that Nielsen “engaged in a campaign of harassment” against current airport manager Carol Madill, who took over the job in 2018, making baseless claims and repeatedly suggesting she be fired.
After a lengthy back and forth between Nielsen and Township lawyers and staff throughout August, the Township took possession of the site on Aug. 29.
They then discovered two occupants and their cats were living in the suite, and had to give the couple access to remove their possessions.
An inspection of the hangar after it was seized turned up a washer, dryer, and industrial dishwasher, a large entertainment unit with TVs, a drum set, a games room with a pool table, and several boxes of new plastic event chairs, which the Township says suggest the site had been modified into an illegal event space.
Airside is arguing that most alleged breaches of the lease have ceased, as Youth Unlimited, the Langley Flying Club, and the suite tenants are all gone.
It argues that ending the lease would cause substantial financial harm, largely because of the loss of over $2 million invested into the site, including $1.5 million spent on improvements.
The Township noted that the value of the new hangar was listed as $250,000 when it permits were issued three years ago.
It also says the relationship between Airside and the Township is “irreparably damaged.”
“The Township does not believe that Mr. Nielsen or Airside intends to use the premises for lawful uses going forward,” the Township’s response to Airside says.
A hearing was scheduled for Vancouver Supreme Court on Friday, Nov. 13.
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