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Conversation takes off on development, safety at Haller Air Park

Pilots concerned proposed RV resort would threaten safe takeoffs, landings

Posted 12/7/23

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Residents, pilots and officials gathered last week to discuss the county’s proposed zoning regulations concerning public and private airports. Led by Commissioners Mike Cella …

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Conversation takes off on development, safety at Haller Air Park

Pilots concerned proposed RV resort would threaten safe takeoffs, landings


Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Residents, pilots and officials gathered last week to discuss the county’s proposed zoning regulations concerning public and private airports. Led by Commissioners Mike Cella and Jim Renninger, County Manager Howard Wanamaker, and Chief Planner Dodie Selig, the Airport Zoning Regulations Workshop focused on regulations to address the complex concerns of how landowners and pilots can co-exist in the same area.

The central focus of the meeting was the consideration of safe zones during takeoffs and landings. With impending developments near Haller Air Park at Reynolds Industrial Park, the need for comprehensive regulations is becoming increasingly urgent. Clay would be just the 12th county in the state to establish similar zoning guidelines.

The Federal Aviation Administration licenses Haller, but the local government governs it. A 500-plot recreational vehicle resort is being proposed at Haller’s end of the runway. Pilots argued a significant portion would be in a flight path and considered a “danger zone.” Blueprint plans at the end of the runway could also include “tiny homes.”

“The (worry) is the airplanes flying over the top of (the developments), which is what we’re trying to solve. The conversation has to determine the rights of the private landowners. Does this allow planes to fly over that property, and what happens to that air space,” Cella asked.

The FAA requires a 500-foot “safe zone” at the side of a runway and 1,000 feet at the ends of a runway.

“It’s a very complicated process, and I don’t pretend to be some sort of expert on this topic, but that is what’s happening,” Cella said.

Haller Air Park Manager Don Yoakley said the workshop was necessary to start a meaningful conversation.

“I thought it was a good move. It’s the first step to get a proper ordinance to protect the rights of airports and the property owners surrounding them, along with safety for the people,” he said.

Yoakley said he was concerned the council may not appreciate the severity of the challenges.

“I wish we could stop the development because I think that (creates) an unsafe situation,” he said.

Yoakley said he is now confident a workable solution may be reached.

“I think the forum brought in (a wide range of opinions) of people being affected by this, which should produce a good ordinance that meets most people’s expectations,” Yoakley said.

Gorden Halbrook said he didn’t know what to expect but, like Yoakley, said he’s happy the county is getting more involved.

“I think (the government) is trying to help us out and work with us to a degree, as far as they can. I’m sure they have their own agenda, but they are a lot more receptive than I expected. I’m leaving with a lot better attitude than I did when I walked in,” he said.

Halbrook said his primary concern was the zones north and south of the runway, which prompted safety concerns for potential off-airport crashes.

“You want to try to mitigate that stuff as much as possible,” he said.

Brenna Pedano, a young pilot, said safety was the most critical aspect.

“We’re just trying to (make our voices) heard because we’re worried about saving lives,” she said. “We don’t just want to protect our airport, but also save others.”

“We’re much closer than we’ve ever been, and people say that they like the (draft document),” Cella said.

But as the county refines its draft, several questions remain.

“I believe they are trying to address it, and we will see what the next draft looks like,” Halbrook said.

Another public hearing will be scheduled to review the updated version of the draft. After working through the Planning Commission, the plan may go before the Board of County Commissioners.