Pilots urge Clay County to address safety issues with proposed RV resort near airport runway

Julie Morgan

While Clay County works on an airport ordinance, pilots at Haller Airpark continue to speak out about a proposed RV park that would encroach upon their flight path.

Pilots have been showing up at the county commissioners' meetings since June. They've been making their case about the safety of a proposed community.

The community is a 550-space RV/campground park. According to the developer, the RV resort would include a convenience store, laundry facilities, pool, clubhouse, restaurant, recreational facilities, and amenities.

The area in question is north of Haller Airpark on U.S. 17 in Green Cove Springs. Pilots say it's in the runway's direct path, which creates a safety issue because takeoff and landing are the most dangerous parts of a flight.

Pilots say they were unaware when the land development use, rezoning, and proposal of the RV park went before the board.

"The process to notify surrounding property owners is and was ineffective and has brought us to this point," said Don Yoakly, a pilot who uses Haller Airpark. He was one of two pilots who spoke at Tuesday night's meeting.

However, the county says the area was properly signed with information about the public hearing on the proposal.

The board approved the land development use and rezoning in September 2021.

Pat Lee, the other pilot who spoke Tuesday night, urged the commission to put the issue on the agenda. "Because this commission does not think our issue at Haller Airpark is important enough to be an agenda item, we're relegated to 3 minutes of speeches with no comment." Lee wants a back-and-forth discussion with the commission at the meeting.

"We're speaking here because the five of you voted unanimously to rezone 96 acres and change the land use to allow JWB to build an RV resort with absolutely no regard for the $40 million-dollar unique flying community that borders the property. I applaud Commissioner Renninger's efforts, but it appears now that any action this commission takes to block residential trailer living in the hazard zone will not be retroactive."

A statement on this issue from the county says: "The county continues to facilitate discussions between airpark representatives and the RV community property owners/developers. We regard all safety concerns from our residents seriously, and certainly, safety in our county is a top priority."

After the pilots initially spoke at a council meeting in June, the board scheduled a workshop to discuss various topics, including airports. County Manager Howard Wanamaker brought to the board's attention the 2020 FDOT land use guidebook that helps governments write land development codes. The guidebook requires that "all local governments (municipalities and counties) must adopt airport zoning regulations."

The county says, "Our staff is actively researching and working toward the preparation of an ordinance related to airports." The written statement went on to say, "Our public was invited to a community stakeholder workshop in June, and there will be more to follow during the course of the process."

Pilots are now calling on the county manager to take further action to "ensure the design of the development be changed to ensure high-density dwellings not be placed under the approach and takeoff path."

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