Jumbolair application withdrawn

The developer shelved the application for land-use changes and zoning in the face of organized residents, three major farm and equine-focused nonprofits--and actor John Travolta.

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Posted February 21, 2024 | By Belea T. Keeney

In a surprise, last-minute move, the Jumbolair development team pulled its application for a land-use change and re-zoning less than two hours before the Feb. 20 public hearing at the Marion County Board of County Commissioners that drew hundreds of people.

Over 150 people crowded into the auditorium, and dozens more listened to the proceedings from the lobby and courtyard area. The line to enter snaked around the commission building, with hundreds of those in opposition to the project wearing red shirts and clothing. Attorneys representing Horse Farms Forever (HFF), Ocala Horse Alliance (OHA) and Save Our Rural Area (SORA) as well as attorneys for celebrity resident John Travolta were present.

The project’s land use amendment would have paved the way for over 220 new homes and 200 airplane hangars in the midst of a rural area of northwest Marion county.

The withdrawal letter from Jumbolair attorney Robert Batsel stated in part, “Concerning recent clearing for equestrian use and hay fields, the work was properly performed by a licensed contractor, in a manner consistent with the Code of Ordinances, and without the Bulls’ knowledge of its effect on pending applications. In other words, the Bulls hired a contractor to perform the work in good faith. Upon learning of the Code applicable to this permit exception, the Bulls are committed to complying with all applicable requirements, which gives rise to the need to withdraw and resubmit a modified application.”

Marion County Growth Services staffer Ken Weyrauch said, “The applicant has said they would like to revisit the project and come back at a later date.”

 Study of Land Development Code planned

Although the application was withdrawn and not voted on by the board, Commission Chair Michelle Stone acknowledged the crowd and said, “I realize that there are a lot of people in the auditorium that want to speak to this and we will allow that. You’ve been with us all day, and we’re going to listen to public comment.”

Stone reported that 220 people had signed up to speak.

The unusual project was slated as a “fly-in” community with hundreds of prospective airplane hangars designed to accommodate residents’ planes. County Attorney Guy Minter reminded the board the county had received letters from counsel for the opposition with claims that “there are deficiencies in our land development code (LDC) specific to private airfields or fly-in communities. I would recommend that the board direct staff… to revise our land development code so that we have clear criteria.

“Any future applications would be subject to—have to wait—until we get those regulations in place,” Minter continued. This would result in a moratorium on new aviation communities until the LDC was revised and completed. Minter suggested hiring a consultant for the project given the expertise needed to craft such a change; the item will be on a future agenda and voted on by the board.

Commissioner Kathy Bryant reassured the crowd that a completely new application for the parcels was now required and that new public notices would alert them to any future applications.

Speakers impassioned

Over three dozen speakers addressed the commissioners.

Matt Brockway, attorney for HFF, said the applicants tried “to shoehorn a fly-in community using regulations for traditional, single-family residential development. It just didn’t work. We want to be part of the solution to the problem.” Brockway said he and HFF are willing to research and give county staff the appropriate tools to handle these types of development requests.

“We’re glad the applicant has pulled it,” said Jonathan Rivera-Rose, the key neighborhood organizer. “But I’ve been subjected to an onslaught of planes, helicopters,” from Jumbolair flying over his home. He went on to detail for the board what many neighbors described as harassment and bullying by air traffic.

The public comment was impassioned and emotional; several speakers entreated the board to help them with the vintage airplanes and helicopters currently flying over their homes and property. Minter and Stone repeatedly suggested the neighbors look into a private nuisance lawsuit; Commissioner Craig Curry suggested the neighbors contact the Florida Department of Transportation’s aviation division and offered a specific contact person.

Stone alleviated residents’ concerns and confusion about the possibility of the project being renewed after one year.

“They cannot come back now with a fly-in community because we have said basically …we’re not going to be taking any applications” for them until the LDC is studied and revised, she said.

Feels like a win

After the meeting, neighborhood opposition organizers were pleased.

“It was a complete victory for us,” said Rivera-Rose said after the meeting. “We’re aware this is a long war, but we have at least won a battle. The county gave us an absolute win.”

Bernie Little, president of HFF, said of the Jumbolair neighborhood opposition residents, “They’ve been threatened by Jumbolair. I was excited by how many people showed up here today. Hundreds of people stayed until 7:30 at night to share their feelings.”

He added that he was pleased with the planned study of the LDC and “a moratorium is the best of all results.”

Tim Gant, president of SORA, said, “At first, I felt like the rug was pulled out from under us. I was angry on behalf of all these people who put in hundreds and hundreds of hours just to have this stunt. But at the end of the day, we basically got a win.”

Attorney Batsel, representing Jumbolair, declined comment.

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