The houses are still months away from going up, but the planes were there Thursday for a groundbreaking ceremony at Middle Georgia's newest fly-in community.
Billed as a "75-acre pilots' paradise" Plane Living Skypark is a 53-home subdivision adjacent to a 3,000-foot grass runway in Peach County. About 40 people, including local officials and pilots who have bought lots, attended the ceremony.
"I've never been involved in anything like this," said Gene Sheets, president of the Peach County Chamber of Commerce. "It's going to be good for the county and it's going to be good for the whole area."
The developer, Bobby Evridge of Bo & Bo Partners, said he has already sold 21 of the 53 lots, which are an acre or more and sell for $35,000 to $60,000. When he bought the land, he said, he wasn't sure whether the investment would pay off, but he sold a lot the first day it was ready to market.
Located off Ga. 96 directly across from Lane Packing, Evridge said the quick sales are indicative not just of an interest in flying, but of Houston County's growth seeping into Peach County.
"Growth is coming this way," he said.
The subdivision did not come about without some controvery. The runway for the fly-in community is side-by-side with a private runway owned by Jay Cody.
Cody opposed the Skypark runway because he said it created an unsafe situation with the two runways together.
The Federal Aviation Administration issued a finding that the arrangement was "objectionable," but the FAA does not have the authority to regulate private airfields. The FAA said it would reconsider its findings if the two airstrip owners came to a mutual agreement on traffic patterns that did not conflict, but Cody would not sign an agreement proposed by Evridge.
In a telephone interview Wednesday, Cody said he has not ruled out seeking a court injunction to stop the use of the airfield.
Evridge contends that Cody's concerns over the safety issue are exaggerated, in part due to the low amount of traffic he expects on the Skypark runway. Only three of the 21 buyers so far own planes, and he expects only about a dozen aircraft owners to be living in the development when all the lots are sold.
Tim Dupree, who co-owns two other fly-in communities in Peach County, flew his World War II Boeing Steerman bi-plane pilot trainer to the ground breaking. He said safety is not a problem with the airstrip.
"I don't see it as an issue whatsoever," Dupree said.
Evridge's wife, Bonnie, the vice president of the company, said all prospective buyers are provided with all correspondence from the FAA regarding the air strip and the concerns.
Dupree said fly-in communities are fairly common, particularly in the northern part of the state. Pilots enjoy the easy access to the air, and non-pilots often enjoy the environment - just out of an interest in planes.
Tony Patti, a business professor a Macon State College, is a pilot who is building his own plane. He bought a lot at the development.
"I had been wanting a lot in an air park for 10 years but I couldn't find one available," he said.
Grading on the site has begun, and the next step is to build the street, Bobby Evridge said. Once that is done, construction on homes can begin. He said he hopes to see homes being built by July.
A pilot for 35 years, Evridge has built three other housing developments, but Skypark will be his first fly-in community.
"We have always wanted to do this type of development," he said.
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