Jumbo-Size Battle Brewing At John Travolta’s Airport Community

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The recent purchaser of Florida fly-in community Jumbolair has big plans for his investment. But one of his highest-profile property owners isn’t seeing eye-to-eye on the proposed expansion, which has also raised a ruckus among horse-friendly Ocala-area neighbors. A legal battle is brewing between Jumbolair owner Robert Bull and Marion County horse-farm residents—now joined by A-list celebrity/aviator and Jumbolair homeowner John Travolta.

According to the Ocala Gazette, Travolta’s opposition letter comes on the heels of a recently filed lawsuit against Jumbolair following an altercation regarding his access to the 7,500-foot runway and operation of the PAPI runway lights. Neither Bull nor Travolta’s office or attorney immediately responded to AVweb’s requests for comment.

Bull bought the storied airport community in 2021. Jumbolair, originally established as an equestrian retreat by Muriel Vanderbilt, has a long and complex history, including a stint as a refuge for elephants (thus the name, Jumbolair). It was developed as an aviation-centric community by Arthur Jones, founder of the Nautilus exercise equipment company. Jumbolair currently has 38 properties, according to its website.

A letter sent by Travolta’s attorney to the Marion County Board of County Commissioners identifies Bull’s land-use proposal as including two applications. The first is described as a large-scale Future Land Use Map Series (FLUMS) amendment involving 358.6 acres and increasing the maximum number of “dwelling units” to 376. The FLUMS also would add up to 1.3 million square feet of commercial or industrial land use. The second application is for a Planned Development Rezoning of 449.7 acres to add up to 240 residential dwellings and close to a half-million square feet of commercial/industrial property.

Area residents have rallied against the proposal, in some part due to a recent influx of vintage military jet and helicopter activity associated with Bull’s 20-aircraft American Honor Foundation fleet, “a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring and preserving historical American artifacts,” according to the Jumbolair website.

Marion County is touted as the “horse capital” of the country, and area equestrians have expressed outrage over what they describe as low, loud and reckless flying. They also object to what they consider high-density residential and commercial development not consistent with the County’s master plan and not supported by plans for expanded roadway development.

The letter from Travolta’s attorney, Truett Gardner, asserts, “Robert Bull’s proposed comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning demonstrate the antithesis of the protections established by the Supreme Court which have permeated throughout the country, throughout Florida, and are recognized in Marion County. Bull’s proposals instead serve to threaten the public’s health, safety, and welfare by densifying property in a rural area close to a large private runway and by endangering the safety of residents that live in proximity to his property.”

While Bull did not respond to AVweb, he did answer questions via email to the Ocala Gazette. Asked if he had previous experience with fly-in community plans, Bull responded, “We are not developers; we are a local blue-collar family that gets up and goes to work every day for the last 40-plus years.” He also said, “We want to build a high-end fly-in community for like-minded individuals that enjoy both aviation and equestrian activities. That would allow people to build a house and have hangar access that is more affordable than the current model and do so in a way that is compatible with our county’s commitment to the equestrian community.”

Asked to respond to concerns and criticism from horse owners in the region, he wrote: “As someone who lives and works here and as a strong supporter of the local equestrian community, we hear—but do not share—their concerns. We currently stable over a dozen horses on the property and would love to offer a tour to anyone who has this concern. The horses who live near this property are not negatively impacted by the aircraft. It is also important to note that the proposed homes are NOT in the Farmland Preservation Area!”

Brian Donnelly, a former Jumbolair resident, pilot and vocal presence in the anti-expansion effort, told AVweb he was not opposed to the existence of the fly-in community in principle. But he said, “I’m OK with 38 properties, just not 380.” How much effect Travolta’s response to Bull’s plans has in the long run remains in the hands of the Marion County Board of County Commissioners, which will meet to address the issue on Feb. 20.

Mark Phelps
Mark Phelps is a senior editor at AVweb. He is an instrument rated private pilot and former owner of a Grumman American AA1B and a V-tail Bonanza.

26 COMMENTS

    • But he said, “We are not developers; we are a local blue-collar family that gets up and goes to work every day for the last 40-plus years.”

      So he’s just a working stiff who has horses and multiple airplanes and wants to build this project so that other working stiffs can build a home for their horses and airplanes that is more affordable than other alternatives. Shucks!

  1. I’m a central Florida resident. Vast tracts of the state have been developed over the past 30 years. The population has doubled since 1985. More people are moving here. People who bought rural land don’t like to see the suburban sprawl approaching. Every new development project gets a lot of resistance.
    Personally, I don’t mind development but wish we would expand our cities up, not out.

  2. Welcome in 2024. As a European pilot I flew many times to the US. Always wondered at the vastness of the countryside, looking like unlimited possibilities for anyone to build his own dream. Possibly still does at places, but the cities get bigger and eating up land where developers see more revenue than a smal airport where only a few C172s land per day.
    Born in 1952, our small country had 8Mi inhabitants. Now, with the land not growing, we are approaching 18Mi. Expanding anything, I am saying nowadays, about 20+ institutions, governments, laws, private people or groups claim or think they have a claim to the use of each square inch. Any development or change can easily take 5 Years or up to more than 10 to get it done. IF You are lucky. And YES, we also have unstable foundations, comparable to FLA, maybe worse, as we are a river delta.

    • You must be from NL. Yes it has grown so much since I first started visiting in the 80’s. But still such an amazing country.

  3. Another situation of too much money, too much time on their hands and the let`s make it better syndrome. Just take a look at Jeff Co. out in Colorado, to see the end result.

  4. I bet John Travolta wishes he’d bought it when he had a chance – I’m guessing he could have afforded it. Ownership is often the only way to protect something – and even then in some places the government will use eminent domain to take it over so they can get more tax revenue from a proposed development.

  5. AAkkkk!!! Overpopulation has side effects. Running out of space being the primary one. The other problem is that most humans these days like living in urban areas. And cities can only increase density so much before many people want space. The result? Suburbia, and that flows outwards as more people want more space.
    The solution, duh! less population.

  6. Society operates on the growth model. Every decision is shaped by the assumption economic growth fueled by demands of an ever-growing population will continue without end. Even though it is obvious that is not possible, it’s a mindset so ingrained we don’t talk or even think about what a static society would be like, or how to prepare ourselves for it. Oh well, that’s my kid’s kid’s problem.

  7. Over a decade ago we collected data for a mandated lead study at local airports in SoCal.
    Despite monitoring as close as the run-up areas for years, no measurable amount of
    lead could be observed. Data–or rather the lack of supporting data–doesn’t seem to register with airport opponents generally, and–developers gonna develop.

  8. Back of the envelope: So, 38 airpark owners presently benefit from 21+ acres/owner of open space, plus the presumably impressive personal land that contains home and toy barn. Most industrial property needs about 2.8x the building footprint for parking and access. Separately you can figure about 2,000 ft2 of land/residential lot, at minimum, for roads and taxiways (probably higher). At these ratios, assuming no additional open space such playgrounds, sand volleyball and pickleball courts, exercise stations, etc., the larger development will leave about 2/3 acres per dwelling and the other, 1-2/3 acres each. The dude gets all of his investment back, a nice cash flow, and a spot for his stuff, for free while the long-time homeowners, who having had access to the open space for the price of admission and who admittedly could have pooled assets purchasing the free space for its present value, will have to put up with neighbors – backyard barbeques, kids riding bicycles, Super Bowel (sorry, that was intentional) block parties …oh the humanity. Yeah, the dude is a “developer”.

  9. The world is getting smaller by the minute. You want problems, Harry Reid International Airport ran out of private jet parking for the Super Bowl. We had over a thousand private jets. What’s a poor boy gonna do ??

  10. Yes, what’s a poor boy to do? My King Air 350 and Conquest II are now considered “prop trash”. Who would’ve thought.

  11. Funny, that a bunch of pilots on this forum who complain constantly that General Aviation is dying, now want to shut down a guy who is trying to develop an aviation community.

    Have any of you ever been to Jumbolair. It is the longest privately owned runway in the US. It is an incredibly beautiful property that should be developed to grow aviation in Central Florida. You can quibble about how many homes should be built, but denying his right to develop this property is especially rich coming from John Travolta, especially since he has two airline style jet bridges leading into his house.

    Considering JT used to fly his B-707 into his property at Jumbolair, I don’t remember any complaining about the noise then!?

  12. And to think that Travolta started flying an Ercoupe out of TEB when he lived in Englewood NJ and he tied down close to where I was then parked 🙂

  13. Are AvWeb’s readers turning blue? Where’s the deep red hard conservative pro-wealthy base that used to be 85 percent of pilots?
    Sadly, aviation is going the way of the rest of the economy. Those with fat wallets own several airplanes at any given airport, but the business owner who was able to buy a used Cessna 20 or even 10 years ago is now priced out of the market, and meanwhile up to half of all those aircraft in hangars at everytown USA don’t fly at all. Some things never change.

  14. To the Bull family; I feel your pain. As a passionate lover of aviation (ATP, CFII, MEI) and equestrian activities and real estate development for almost 50 years, I have personally tried to develop 4 upscale airparks (some with equestrian elements) which all failed for various reasons. Unfortunately creating any project in our country today is an extreme challenge because we have been dumbed down by greedy, special interest, loud mouth, NIMBYism. Since I am on my final approach to life, I wonder what our country could have been like and worry where it is headed when bold visionaries are shut down by voices of a uneducated, few fools.

  15. It’s commendable that John Travolta has taken a stand, shining a spotlight on the issue. We, all the neighbors, are glad. It’s put this on a global stage.

    The individual in question, the developer, Bull, is a pilot who seems to have a penchant for flying his vintage military aircraft in a manner that can only be described as audacious, has become a source of contention within the community. His flying practices, far from embodying the discipline and respect for aviation norms, verge on the reckless, showcasing a blatant disregard for the tranquility and safety of the area. This isn’t merely about operating from a strip devoid of the oversight a control tower provides; it’s about a fundamental lack of self-governance in aviation conduct.

    When JT operates his aircraft, his arrivals and departures are noted for their professionalism and lack of disturbance, a testament to his respect for both aviation and the community. Contrary to this, the individual’s habit of executing low-altitude maneuvers over local farmlands, causing undue distress to residents and livestock alike, is alarming. Such behavior not only undermines the spirit of aviation but also poses a risk to the safety and well-being of the community.

    For those of us who hold a deep-seated passion for the world of aviation, who cherish the camaraderie and the shared respect for the principles of flight, witnessing such disregard for these values is disheartening. This person’s actions not only tarnish the image of recreational flying but also betray the trust placed in aviators to operate with consideration and responsibility. He stands as a stark outlier in an otherwise respectful and passionate community, a reminder of the importance of upholding the highest standards in aviation conduct.

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