Sedgwick County closed a portion of 71st Street South under the wrong law last July, a judge ruled, halting expansion plans by Cook Airfield for the moment.
District Judge Douglas Roth's ruling is the latest wrinkle in a controversial decision by commissioners no longer on the bench.
Owners of the airfield call the decision a blow to general aviation.
Back in July, county commissioners voted 3-2 to close 71st Street South between 127th and 143rd Streets East to help Cook Airfield expand its runway. The city of Derby and a group of homeowners promptly sued the county.
Two of the commissioners who voted to close the road, Kelly Parks and Gwen Welshimer, are no longer on the board.
And the two commissioners who voted against closing the road, Tim Norton and Dave Unruh, have a new majority with Jim Skelton, who took over representing Welshimer's district.
After Skelton took office in January, the mayor of Derby, Dion Avello, sent him a letter asking him to reconsider the road closure.
The next day, commissioners met in a closed session. They did not say what they were meeting about because they did not take any formal action.
Soon after, the county filed a supplemental brief with the court saying that it did not use the proper state statute and that it would be appropriate for the court to resolve the case by declaring the closure void.
At a hearing last month, Wichita lawyer Jeff Kennedy, representing the owners of Cook Airfield, called it "unbelievably unfair" for the county to argue it had no jurisdiction to close the road.
But Roth has ruled that the county did use the wrong statute. He set aside the closing.
The county says the mistake came down to the fact that 71st Street South, while called a street, is actually a road. When vacating roads, state law "requires that the county commission do things it did not do in this case such as appointing three disinterested householders to act as viewers with the county commissioners and publishing two different public notices, with the latter one giving notice of the viewing," according to the county's court brief.
Cook Airfield can petition again for the county to close the road. One of the owners, Greg Thomas, said in an e-mail response that the owners did not want to speak to reporters.
Cook Airfield's website on Thursday said:
"On March 3, the City of Derby and our County Commission were successful at blocking general aviation growth in Sedgwick County for the short term anyway. The Judge allowed the County to lose their case to Derby like the County requested. The Judge also allowed Crosswinds Aviation (owner of the airfield) to intervene. This means it will continue on to the Kansas State Court of Appeals.
"The project is on hold as a result of the decision."
Unruh said Thursday that Roth "made a ruling based on the law and how he saw how the law was applied."
Unruh said he didn't know what Cook Airfield's plans were.
Skelton said because the airport's plans to expand would use public property, the county must do due diligence to consider "all the potential benefits and negative impacts to the area."
The county should see Cook Airfield's business plan as well as get information about investment and jobs created before signing off on closing a public road, he said.