Jumbolair questions answered

Owner Robert Bull and his attorney, Robert Batsel, offer their perspectives on the controversial project.

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Posted February 13, 2024 | By Belea T. Keeney

The Jumbolair proposed expansion project has generated considerable pushback and controversy in the community. In the lead-up to a key Marion County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Feb. 20, the ‘Gazette’ reached out to owner and project developer Robert Bull and his attorney Robert Batsel for comment. They agreed to participate in a question-and-answer exchange via email.

‘Gazette’: What is your vision for the completed community beyond what’s on paper?

Robert Bull: We want to build a high-end fly-in community for likeminded individuals that enjoy both Aviation and Equestrian activities. That would allow people to build a house and have hangar access that is more affordable than the current model and do so in a way that is compatible with our county’s commitment to the equestrian community.

‘Gazette’: Are there any similar communities that are your model?

Bull: There are many fly-in communities, but (this is the) only one that has an existing paved runway 7,500-foot-long with an equestrian component.

‘Gazette’: Have you developed any other communities or is this your first foray into this type of real estate?

Bull: We are not developers; we are a local blue-collar family that gets up and goes to work every day for the last 40-plus years.

‘Gazette’: How many flights are taking place right now at Jumbolair?

Bull: Today, according to FlightAware, the daily average using a trailing seven-day average is about two or three operations per day.

‘Gazette’: What do you estimate will be the number of flights per day that might take place if developed per your plan?

Bull: In looking at other like communities and their existing traffic, we envision only about a dozen flights each day. This estimate is based on public data from other fly-in communities like Spruce Creek, which is much larger with 1,300 homes.

’Gazette’: What is your response to neighbors in opposition, especially those with horses that are often spooked by low-flying aircraft?

Bull: As someone who lives and works here and as a strong supporter of the local equestrian community, we hear – but do not share – their concerns. We currently stable over a dozen horses on the property and would love to offer a tour to anyone who has this concern. The horses who live near this property are not negatively impacted by the aircraft. It is also important to note that the proposed homes are NOT in the Farmland Preservation Area!

‘Gazette’: How did you come to be involved with planes?

Bull: Through a business we built, aircraft was a tool to support our employees and customers. The company had offices across the U.S. I started flying warbirds as a hobby and became an American history enthusiast preserving significant historical aircraft.

‘Gazette’: Do you have a military background?

Bull: No, I do not, but many of the pilots that fly for the AHF (American Honor Foundation) have a military background.

‘Gazette’: The plane collection has been described as museum quality and owned by the AHF. Are there plans to share it in some way with the public or do you offer educational tours to schools or similar programs?

Bull: Yes, we participate in fly-ins, airshows, exhibitions, and Heritage and Honor flights. We have also done school tours and flown aircraft into schools for educational events as well as local events for the community.

‘Gazette’: What is total number of planes you own?

Bull: Right now, there are about 20 aircraft.

‘Gazette’: Are other private pilots using the runway now?

Bull: Yes, residents of the community use the runway. Most have aircraft and fly themselves.

‘Gazette’: Do you hope for a pilot-focused camaraderie with neighbors and flying clubs in the way golf course communities revolve around the links?

Bull: Yes. Aviation and equestrian.

Robert Batsel Q&A:

‘Gazette’: Are you surprised or concerned at the level and organization of the neighborhood opposition?

Batsel: I know it can be scary when a letter arrives in the mail with notice of a project in your backyard, which begins with fear of the unknown. We’re human and we assume the worst. This can be compounded when an organized interest group spreads misinformation and stokes the fire. I feel for the neighbors who have been misled to believe that Mr. and Mrs. Bull’s intentions are incompatible or inconsistent with the neighborhood. In fact, this is the Bulls’ home. They are committed to a first-class project that will benefit all concerned, serving as a good neighbor and a one-of-a-kind fly-in community for aviation and equestrian enthusiasts.

‘Gazette’: The Nov. 28 meeting with Jumbolair neighbors wasn’t a typical part of the approval process and was optional on your part, not required by the county.  What was your hope for that meeting, and how did you feel about the outcome?

Batsel: We chose to host a neighborhood meeting with two goals in mind. The first was to listen to thoughts and concerns of our neighbors. The second was to provide accurate information about the project. We brought sweet tea and lemonade because, in Marion County, that’s how we find common ground. I know our listening was valuable, which led to significant changes in our plan reducing density and increasing lot sizes. I hope attendees felt it was positive and were happy to hear that rumors about commercial flight schools and other wild allegations are not true. We received a lot of positive feedback about the facts shared but also understand that everyone is entitled to an opinion.

‘Gazette’: Anything else you’d like to add for readers to help understand your clients’ perspective?

Batsel: I would just like to reiterate that Mr. and Mrs. Bull are not developers; they are local residents making an incredible investment in their neighborhood and pursuing a passion project. They love horses, want to see the equestrian community thrive and believe Jumbolair will be home to new residents who come to Marion County to support equestrian activities. The project will only result in 12-13 flights per day at full buildout. No residential development is proposed for the Farmland Preservation Area.

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