Pilots fear Haller Airpark safety will be compromised by development

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 8/10/22

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Residents of Haller Park, pilots with hundreds of thousands of flight hours, are wondering how the approval of a large development about fewer than 1,000 feet from a runway …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Don't have an ID?


Print subscribers

If you're a print subscriber, but do not yet have an online account, click here to create one.

Non-subscribers

Click here to see your options for subscribing.

Single day pass

You also have the option of purchasing 24 hours of access, for $1.00. Click here to purchase a single day pass.

Pilots fear Haller Airpark safety will be compromised by development

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Residents of Haller Park, pilots with hundreds of thousands of flight hours, are wondering how the approval of a large development about fewer than 1,000 feet from a runway could have happened.

Haller Airpark is roughly seven miles south of Green Cove Springs. The group, citing a litany of risks, is looking for options and seeking the county’s help.

In August of 2021, the Planning Commission unanimously approved rezoning 48.3 acres of Agricultural/Residential zoned property and 46.8 acres of agriculturally zoned property to Planned Unit Development.

The application made no mention of a private airpark nearby, nor was it addressed publicly at meetings until mid-June. The airpark is visible from satellite images and the road to enter the airpark is called Airpark Road. County officials and the pilots contend whether the changes were noticed properly.

Later that month, the Board of County Commissioners discussed water and sewer and the rezoning was continued. The county, however, approved the zoning and use for 550 resort RV spaces and other amenities in late September of last year.

On Sept. 28, the commissioners asked about the tourism impact and types of camping. The rezoning passed unanimously.

“This is not going to be catering to fly-by-night hobo-type residents,” attorney Wyman Duggan said last year. “The intent is to provide the amenity that doesn’t currently exist, right near what’s going to be a major transportation thoroughfare for people to come and stay for a while here.”

Michael Bourré, of Bourré Construction Group, is a member of the Planning Commission who recused himself during votes related to the property. He said at the same September meeting how a RV resort was a low burden to the county and the perfect use for the site, which includes a burrow pit.

“There’s nothing really around it, there’s a couple of houses scattered around on acreage,” Bourré said.

In April of 2022, the parcels sold for $2.7 million in April from G&T Batton Properties to Jacksonville-based RV Park Clay County LLC, according to the Clay County Property Appraiser’s Office. The address of the LLC belongs to JWB Real Estate Capital, and a representative could not be reached for comment.

A grass runway splits the series of homes in two. In a clubhouse next to the runway, pilot Dennis Gillespie draws a diagram of the runway. He demonstrates that pilots need adequate room for takeoff and landing, especially in the case of engine failure or similar life-threatening issues.

Gillespie said he’s witnessed fiery crashes and he foresaw the danger a potential development poses to pilots and residents.

“This is about purposefully being negligent and having people in this area,” he said. “This is something we need to deal with, otherwise we can’t fly.”

Pat Lee has been a vocal advocate for the airpark at meetings. It’s not hard for him to list off the credentials of the pilots at ease and to express the frustration of the ordeal. A goal of a pilot is mitigating risk, he said.

“This is all we’ve been doing our whole lives,” Lee said. “We are trying to tell these people that safety is an issue and they will not listen.”

Lee warned of encroachment on small airparks across the country. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association found that 1.4 airports close a month each year, a figure “ … that should worry every general aviation pilot,” according to the organization.

Pilot Don Yoakley said the airpark was there first and possible encroachment could impact the airport's future as complaints come in.

“Our concern is public safety of the people living in that area and how over time with noise and complaints … it’s going to affect the property values of this airpark as it becomes untenable between these two entities,” he said.

After furor from pilots, commissioners have signaled to look into the matter, with officials into the morass of private airpark law. The permitting process involving the property is ongoing.

Comments

No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here