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Rural airstrip's neighbors want to ground flier

A flier who tows advertising banners over St. Petersburg Beach and Clearwater Beach has angered the neighbors of the tiny airstrip he uses east of Lake Tarpon, and now they want Pinellas County officials to tell the flier he's grounded.

"We enjoy a very special lifestyle out here, enjoying nature and doing what we can to push back progress when it seems to invade our love for peace and quiet," neighbor Marianne Morgan wrote to the County Commission this week. "I don't need to tell you how I feel about an airfield next door."

Actually, the 2,200-foot airstrip south of Keystone Road dates back to 1969, before many of the homes in East Lake were built, Charles Jamison said. Jamison and his wife, Lynda, own a two-thirds share of the strip. Mrs. Jamison's mother, Ruth Huff, owns the other third.

"We were here first and now they want to shut us down," Jamison said Friday.

For two decades the strip saw little use beyond the occasional touch-down of a two-seater plane, said longtime neighbor J. A. Long. Planes might have landed two or three times a week at most, she said.

But, in the last six months, Brian Garner has been using the turf-and-gravel strip as a base for his airborne-advertising business, and every take-off and landing "sounds like a herd of big mosquitoes," Long said.

Garner's turbo-prop planes make too much noise, according to neighbors. People who live near the strip also are concerned about whether it's safe.

"We were sitting by the pool the other day and we saw one of those planes taking off and I commented to my husband, "I don't think he's going to make it,' " Long said. The flier did, though.

Two months ago, county officials cited the airstrip for not getting county permission for the banner-towing business. Because the airstrip is in an area zoned "agriculture-estate," the Jamisons had to apply for a special-use permit before Garner could use the strip.

They applied May 6. County zoning officials will hold a hearing on the application Monday at 9 a.m. in the County Commission chambers. The recommendation from that hearing will go to the commissioners July 13 at 6:30 p.m.

"What they're proposing is a little bit unusual. But it is allowed to be applied for," zoning official John Cueva said Friday. He was not aware of any similar situation in the rest of the county.

A number of people have written or called county officials to protest the Jamisons' application, Cueva said.

"I am very disturbed to think you could allow such a noisy operation in a populated area, an area populated by people who paid a premium to live in an area devoid of unnecessary noise and pollution," neighbor Sheila Brady wrote to commissioners.

Some of the opposition is apparently based on an anonymous letter mailed to area residents that says Garner is bringing in a fleet of 21 planes to use the airstrip. Jamison said that is not true. Garner could not be reached for comment Friday.

"It would be a relatively small operation at best _ three or four planes," Jamison said.

Jamison, who said he was letting Garner use the strip as a favor, said he will present a plan Monday that will make the takeoffs and landings quieter.

"We don't want to aggravate the neighbors," he said.

_ Staff writer Wayne Garcia contributed to this report.