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Lease in holding pattern

BOC delays decision on model aviators

POSTED: November 23, 2013 12:16 a.m.
Alyssa LaRenzie/

Dino DiGiorgio Jr. flies his model airplane at Eagle’s Beak Park. The commission has postponed a vote that may terminate the Georgia Model Aviators lease at the park.

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The fate of the Georgia Model Aviators lease remains up in the air following the Forsyth County commission’s meeting Thursday.

The commission postponed a final vote on the settlement agreement that terminates the flying club’s lease at the Eagle’s Beak Park two years early, opting for further discussion on the issue at a work session Tuesday.

Thursday, commissioners heard from nearly a dozen club members in the large crowd of supporters. The group has flown on the property for about 10 years.

The settlement agreement, which prevents a potential lawsuit from a neighboring property owner, would end the lease at the Old Federal Road site on Dec. 31, 2015.

In August, members of the Garmon Family Trust sent a letter contending that the planes not only constitute a nuisance, but also that the land had been bought as green space, to which the remote control airfield doesn’t conform.

The county purchased the 225-acre property in northwest Forsyth in 2009 with funding from the $100 million bond referendum for parks, green space and recreation that voters had approved a year earlier.

In September, commissioners responded by issuing notice to the club of the county’s intent to end the $1,000-per-month lease.

On Nov. 12, the commission gave preliminary approval to the agreement with the Garmon Family Trust in a 4-1 vote, with Todd Levent opposed.

Chris Garmon, in a phone interview last week, said the family’s concern with the airfield began when the club first signed a lease with the then private owner and they began to hear noise from the planes.

“It’s constant. It’s a nonstop up, down, high pitch, low pitch,” he said, adding that the models also trespass and crash land on his side of the trees.

When the county took over the property, Garmon said he received assurances that the lease would be month to month and the club would not be in the long-term plans for the park.

About a year ago, however, he heard during a meeting about the Etowah Blueway, which soon will include canoe access to the river at the park, that the club had been included in the Eagle’s Beak master plan.

Shocked at the news, he called then Commissioner-elect Cindy Jones Mills, whose district includes the park and Garmon property.

“I said there’s no way I’m going to let this thing get concreted in to where in 2017 they’re going to sign another long-term lease and this situation is going to go on. I’ve put up with it for 10 years,” Garmon said.

“Now the county’s purchased it with county money. I do not feel good about having 55 acres set aside for a model airplane park.”

Aside from his issues as a neighboring property owner, Garmon said residents lose access to the county park and enjoyment of green space due to the noise and crashes.

Garmon and his family don’t live on the property, but they do routinely use the land for activities. His mother and father plan to build a home on the site and retire there.

“We’re there to stay,” Garmon said, “and that’s part of why we want them to go.”

Mills has agreed with ending the lease in part because of a clause that states the activity can’t be a nuisance to adjacent property owners, as well as the legal issue of the land having been bought with green space funding.

Since the activity doesn’t conform as a passive use, Mills said the county would need to transfer money from another area of the parks bond — money that isn’t there anymore.

During the meeting Thursday, club members highlighted the community benefits of the organization to families, students and the economy.

Shawn Kauk celebrated his 16th birthday by asking the commission to preserve the field he’s grown up with. His father, Randy, said the family has enjoyed the activity for generations.

“When I first heard about the 2008 green space initiative, I had no idea that it would become the vehicle that this county would use to take away the hobby that I shared with my kid and my father,” Randy Kauk said.

Cliff Whitney talked about launching his hobby business in Forsyth County because of the large club base, and the success it has enjoyed.

Two teachers in Cherokee County, one formerly at South Forsyth High School, discussed launching students into engineering and aeronautics careers through the partnership with the club.

The aviators also hold an event for university students each year that draws from colleges around the world.

Some club members also disputed the Garmon family’s claims in their comments.

County resident Chris Meeks questioned how a “nuisance” is defined in the contract, and if the trucks driving daily to the nearby landfill or the discharge of firearms from hunters qualified as well.

Lou Melancon seconded that notion, referencing the old saying “if a tree falls in the forest and no one’s around, does it make a sound?”

“If a model airplane flies over no one, is it a nuisance?” Melancon said.

Attorney Ethan Underwood, who represents the Garmon family, also addressed the commission Thursday. He was the lone voice in favor of the lease termination during public comments.

Underwood said while the club has benefits to the community, the Garmons have contributed as well, paying more than $1 million in property taxes over the past 10 years.

The family also uses the property to stage the popular Frogtown Trail Challenge, an annual race for charity.

The issue of what constitutes a nuisance, Underwood said, would be for a court to decide.

“You just don’t get to use property to the burden of other people,” he said.

After the meeting, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said commissioners wanted to postpone the matter to Tuesday both to allow themselves, as well as the parties involved, more time to review and discuss.

 

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