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Neighbors ground aerial ad plan

The people who own an airstrip at the edge of the Brooker Creek Preserve have dropped plans to allow planes towing advertising banners to take off and land at their small field.

Charles and Lynda Jamison had planned to sell their 2,200-foot airstrip to Aerial Billboard Corp. of Clearwater, but changed their minds after seeing the company's presentation to Pinellas County zoning officials and about 100 angry neighbors last week.

"They offended a lot of people and embarrassed us," Charles Jamison said Monday. "I told them to back off."

The airstrip, which lies east of Lake Tarpon and just south of Keystone Road, dates back to World War II. The Jamisons or their family have owned the strip since 1979. But until recently it had never been used for anything other than small, two-seater planes dropping in a few times a week.

In April, though, Aerial Billboard moved its planes to the East Lake strip from a strip in Wimauma and began taking off and landing from dawn to dusk.

Company officials said last week they hoped to base up to 19 planes there. The planes would tow advertising banners over beaches in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, as well as over area bridges at rush hour, they said.

Neighbors reported the operation to county officials, who cited it for operating without the proper zoning permit. So the Jamisons applied for the permit, and zoning officials held a hearing last week as a preliminary step before taking the application to the County Commission next month.

More than 100 neighbors jammed into the hearing in Clearwater to tell zoning officials that the banner-towing service was noisy and unsafe, and they feared it would lower their property values.

Some also questioned the effect the take-offs and landings would have on the county's $30-million preserve, which is supposed to offer a respite from the urban development of the rest of the county.

Aerial Billboard officials offered to throw a pig roast for the neighborhood and give free airplane rides. They also promised to get rid of the noisiest planes and buy quieter ones and said they would change the flight path so no planes took off over houses. And they predicted the animals at the preserve would easily adapt to the airplanes.

County Administrator Fred Marquis said the county staff would probably recommend commissioners turn down the application next month. But the Jamisons beat them to the punch, withdrawing the application.

Aerial Billboard officials could not be reached for comment Monday. But the Jamisons said the presentation the company made included plans they had never heard before, including the flight path proposal, which the Jamisons did not believe would work.

They decided they would rather stay on good terms with their neighbors. "I didn't feel like it was worth the heartache," Charles Jamison said.

After mailing off a letter to county zoning officials, Jamison delivered a copy to John Strowbridge, president of the homeowners association at the Woodfield subdivision, which bused in 40 residents to last week's hearing. "That made my day," Strowbridge said. "We're very, very pleased about it."