Revised Jumbolair development meets continued opposition

In addition to nearby—and organized—residents, actor John Travolta and three major area nonprofits now formally oppose the application.

A sign against the expansion of Jumbolair is shown posted on a fence at the home of Jonathan Rivera Rose as people arrive for a Coalition Against Jumbolair Expansion meeting on West Anthony Road in Anthony on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2024.

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Posted February 13, 2024 | By Belea T. Keeney

Opposition to plans to expand the Jumbolair development is bringing together a unique collection of Marion County residents, ranging from environmental groups and farmland preservation activists to perhaps the area’s most notable landowner, actor John Travolta.

Dozens of people met Feb. 10 in Anthony to discuss strategy for the upcoming Marion County Board of County Commissioners meeting where the proposed land use amendment request is scheduled to be discussed. The afternoon meeting featured speakers from Horse Farms Forever (HFF), Ocala Horse Alliance (OHA) and Save Our Rural Area (SORA) as well as neighborhood organizers and others, all exhorting attendees to attend the Feb. 20 Board of County Commissioners meeting and let their feelings be known.

Bernie Little, president of HFF, said of the upcoming meeting, “I predict the room will be full. And I predict the commissioners will listen intently to what everyone says.”

Little noted that HFF sent out 13,000 direct mail pieces to the area in a five-mile radius from the Jumbolair location on Feb. 9. The mailer encourages people to voice their opinions and contact the commissioners or attend the meeting.

At issue are revised plans for the community–sometimes named Jumbullair in documents to reflect the name of current owners Robert and Debra Bull—that call for 222 dwelling units on about 450 acres comprised of a mix of over 20 parcels.  The development is designated a “fly-in community,” and opponents of the expansion are worried about the possibility of 200-plus aircraft hangars being built and the resulting air traffic.

The parcels extend as far west as West Anthony Road, 200A/Old State Road 301 to the east, north to NE 95th Street and south to 77th Street, all centered around the community’s 7,550-foot-long runway, the longest private airstrip in the United States.

Little went on to reassure those in the crowd anxious about public speaking and to give advice on how to present pertinent information to the board.

“They expect me to say a certain thing. But 10 words from a neighbor are worth more than 10,000 words from me,” Little said. He told them to speak about how the project, and particularly the increased air traffic, would affect their quality of life. Let the lawyers deal with the legal nuances, he said, and focus instead on the project’s impact to you.

“Remember, is this activity compatible with surrounding properties? Clearly, no, it’s not. Not only is not compatible, it’s abusive and disrespectful,” Little said.

The combination of grassroots organizing, a recent letter from Travolta’s team opposing the expansion of Jumbolair, and the coherence of resistance from the county’s nonprofits that focus on horses, farmland and preservation, have made for a lot of enthusiasm among the opposition parties.

Attorney Robert Batsel and lead developer Robert Bull responded to our requests for comment in a Q&A style emailed interview.

The Feb. 20 meeting starts at 2 p.m. at the Marion County McPherson Governmental Complex. Security scans are required to enter, and those planning to speak should arrive early for screening. Overflow audience members can listen to the meeting via speakers that air in the lobby and courtyard area, and meetings are livestreamed at

Travolta voices opposition through attorney’s letter

Opponents to the proposal were heartened to learn that Travolta is also against the plans to expand the unique development. Travolta’s trust owns just over 19 acres in Jumbolair, he lives there and uses the runway for his private jets.

Travolta’s attorneys sent a six-page letter to the BOCC on Feb. 9 requesting the board summarily deny the land use and rezoning applications. The letter focuses on safety risks due to proximity to an active runway; noise and air pollution; property value decreases; and environmental and natural habitat impact.

“Though the Property is within the Urban Growth Boundary,” the letter reads, “it is located at the very northernmost boundary, which is a substantial distance from existing urban areas to the south. Therefore, this is not an appropriate location for densifying residential development. Jumbolair Aviation Estates is intentionally located a significant distance away from urban development in order to continue protecting the natural and cultural environment in and surrounding the Estates. The proposal is a prime example of proliferating urban sprawl in a location that is far from existing urban areas. (The owners’) proposals are not consistent with existing development patterns, as necessary infrastructure is not even contemplated and, most glaringly, the proposals could not be more incompatible with the fabric of the surrounding area.”

The letter also highlights the safety issue that concerns many of the neighbors.

“A significant increase in residential and commercial development should not be approved near an airport due to the heightened safety risks involved with increased private air traffic,” the letter states. “The applicant’s PUD Concept Plan dated Jan. 5, 2024, boasts an additional 198 airport hangars, resulting in a significant increase of flight operations for at least 300 aircraft. The lack of concern for potential collisions between aircraft, residential buildings, and neighboring residents is apparent as the Community Center for 55 residential units is proposed to be located less than 400 feet from the south end of the existing runway.”

Brian Donnelly, one of the core neighborhood organizers, said of the Travolta letter, “I have never seen a more blistering letter and a taking apart of this plan. It will catch your hands on fire if you hold it. Three times the United States Supreme Court is mentioned, and I believe it’s sending a signal to our (county commissioners) that they’re willing to take this all the way.”

Travolta’s opposition letter is in addition to a lawsuit the actor’s team filed last month against the Jumbolair team regarding his access to the runway, the size of his plane(s) and a lighting system

Air traffic already a concern

Neighbors have documented dozens of incidents of low-flying aircraft over the Jumbolair property and the surrounding area that includes their own farms. The vintage warplanes and helicopters sweeping over the farms have caused considerable worry for those living nearby.

Dr. Jenny Susser, a sports psychologist who works with Olympic-level athletes, said, “Nine years ago, I came (to Ocala) for the horse community.” Since then, Susser said, she’s witnessed various alarming aerobatic maneuvers taking place in the vicinity.

“I have video of them doing stunts, contrails, loop de-loops, flying straight up and stalling and falling backwards,’’ she said. “You don’t move to horse country to be worried about a Huey (military helicopter) flying over your head.”

The Travolta letter states, “(The owners’) insensitivity to the increase in air traffic has shown a complete disregard toward the equestrian community and the County’s reputation as a sanctuary for these creatures. A significant increase in low-flying planes would severely disrupt the otherwise placid environment that these horses thrive in.”

Little, in his remarks at the Feb. 10 meeting, also spoke to the volume and type of flight activities now taking place from Jumbolair. “Regrettably, it’s going to take an accident for someone to wake up and stop what’s going on over there.”

Project continued from December 5 BOCC meeting

The project was first slated to be heard at the Dec. 5 BOCC meeting, but Jumbolair attorney  Batsel requested a continuance and the board stated the application could be tabled until Feb. 20. The board explicitly did not vote on the continuance, in contrast to a Dec. 20 request for a similar continuance for the RaceTrac project in Sparr. At that meeting, over 30 minutes of discussion took place regarding the formality of requesting continuances and the necessity for the board’s approval and vote.

The “Gazette” asked County Attorney Guy Minter about the lack of such a vote for Jumbolair. Minter wrote that he had not reviewed the video of that meeting, “but I believe the Board granted the request for continuance. The applicant had not previously requested a continuance before the Board, and in the past, the Board has generally granted at least one requested continuance from an applicant, so this action was consistent with past Board practice.”

Continuances are typically allowed for projects to allow applicants to assemble their research, modify their plans and conduct required studies.

The project plans

County Growth Services staff initially recommended approval of the planned unit development but reversed its decision just before the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting on Oct. 30. Staff wrote the proposal was not consistent with Florida statutes and the Marion County Comprehensive Plan and was incompatible with the surrounding area.

The county’s staff report on the revised proposal states, “The ±449.66-acre project area is the majority of the property adjacent to the Jumbolair Aviation Estates (Hamlet) Subdivision, which currently has large open green spaces and has been improved by several single-family residences, along with the Jumbolair Estate that includes a club/hall, ballroom, arenas, barns, aircraft hangars, several storage sheds, pool house, and pool, fitness gym, several smaller agricultural accessory structures, and a 7,550 ft x 200 ft paved private airstrip. Jumbolair provides a green space open buffer of over 400 feet between the residential lots and the runway.”

On Nov. 28, the legal team for Jumbolair Development, LLC, held a neighborhood meeting in one of the owners’ airplane hangars. It wasn’t especially successful, said one attendee, Jonathan Rivera-Rose Schenck.

“There was nothing new in his presentation,” Rivera-Rose Schenck said. “It was stated specifically by both Batsel and (an agent for the developer) that ‘Look, we’re going to do this either way and if we get denied, we’ll just keep coming back. We’re gonna get what we want,’ they literally said that.” Attendees left, many of them feeling bulldozed and frustrated, he said.

“Not a single soul who walked out that door was for it,” Rivera-Rose Schenck said.

Organized community opposition

The level and volume of community opposition has surprised some people.

“I’ve never seen this level of opposition to any project in Marion County,” said Amy Agricola, a real estate agent and one of the neighborhood organizers. “Having all three of them (HFF, SORA and OHA) work together like this is unprecedented.”

Neighborhood organizer Rivera-Rose Schenck spearheaded the grassroots efforts that include a website (; an online petition that has gathered over 2,500 signatures; meetings with county staff; and ordered and offered roadside signs to alert nearby residents one week in late January. The signs went up on Thursday and Friday, and many of the signs were subsequently removed by Code Enforcement staff for being in the right of way the following Monday.

The group has coordinated a definitive plan for neighbors speaking at the BOCC meeting, handing out sample talking points to help people prepare for the board.

Susser said her hope was “that the land use amendment is denied. For me, I feel there’s hundreds, probably thousands of people, who are against this. And yet one person benefits. This (Jumbolair) benefits one person, one family, one entity. And it’s a shame because it feels like culturally we’ve gone to this place where the people with the most money have the most say. The masses have to put up this fight against the money.”

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