Pilot withdraws request for fly-in community after Osceola staff rejects plan

An airline pilot's dream of building Osceola County's first luxury fly-in community appears to have stalled on the runway after failing to secure approvals from the county's planning and engineering staff.

Brian Hickok, a captain for JetBlue, purchased 50 acres in Harmony right across from the Lake X airstrip on Old Melbourne Highway and filed the Preliminary Subdivision Plan (PS) for Galt's Landing. 

The gated community would have provided for a private taxiway to give the residents access to the airstrip. Each of the 10 estate homes would sit on approximately one acre and have garages sized to accommodate a small airplane.  

But the PS approval would be contingent on Osceola also approving an amendment to to the Harmony Planned Development to accommodate the project. The county's Development Review Committee said it would not approve the project without an agreement between Hickok and the nonprofit Kirchman Foundation, which owns the 10,432-acre Lake X Ranch nature preserve and controls access to the airstrip.

"There is no agreement in place for the Lake X Airstrip, therefore we are eliminating our request for a fly-in community," John Adams, vice president of Rj Whidden & Associates, told GrowthSpotter on Wednesday. "However, the plan doesn't change. We still have 10 estate lots on the private lakefront of Cat Lake."

It'll still have a private marina on Cat Lake and an observation tower, tennis court, community greenhouses and even its own chicken coop. Adams had pitched the community as a perfect example of the high-end, executive housing that's desperately needed in Osceola County.

"It would have been more luxurious and a different clientele if it was, in fact, able to be worked out as a fly-in community," he lamented.

The airstrip access wasn't the only concern noted by county planners. Their other objections focused on proposed changes to internal roads and pedestrian/bike trails within the Harmony master-planned community.

Sun Terra Communities, which bought Harmony in 2017, was seeking to reroute some of the roads and trails connecting the town center to  new neighborhoods being developed to the east. Sun Terra is planning a 463 homesites in the section of the community known as "Harmony Central." 

Adams said one of the roads was rerouted to avoid a sandhill crane management area. The other was eliminated because it was on a gas line easement and would have impacted a Class 1 wetland with a dedicated conservation easement. The alternative is U.S. 192, and Sun Terra offered to build a multipurpose trail in the road right-of-way. But that forces residents to exit the community and reenter to access the Town Center

Adams said the county staff has now accepted the road revisions, but is still asking the developer to keep the trail segment that crosses the wetland. One reason for this would be to accommodate students who need to use the tunnel under U.S. 192 to access the middle school and high school on the south side of the highway.

"They are now requesting that a boardwalk be built through the wetland," Adams said. He believes it's unlikely the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers would approve a permit for the trail if a suitable alternative exists.

"We believe we have a solution that can be permitted," Adams said. "Osceola County staff is still insisting on this boardwalk through a forested wetland."

The Harmony PD Amendment is now slated to go to the county's Planning Commission on Nov. 3, along with the revised Galt's Landing subdivision. 

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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