|Courtesy of Mountain Air|
I live in downtown Manhattan and like the great majority of New Yorkers, have no car. The commute to my airplane in Caldwell, N.J., is a much bigger undertaking than a flight from Caldwell to Sun ’n Fun in Lakeland, Fla., where I’m investigating a possible solution to my dilemma: A home on a residential airpark, maybe a property with a private runway or some other cohabitation arrangement with my airplane. Apparently, I’m not alone in my search.
“Over the last 10 years, the lifestyle has become more and more popular, and we’re seeing more residential airparks develop around the country,” said Kathie Beaty, owner of Aviation Homes & Land in Lakeland, at her outdoor booth. The canvas walls are festooned with pictures of airpark homes and aerial views of airpark developments. “And it’s not just the baby boomers,” Beaty said of those buying into the dream. “A lot of young families are now choosing this way of life.”
“We’ve definitely seen an uptick, especially since 9/11,” said Dave Sclair of Living With Your Plane, cited by many as the authoritative source for residential airpark information. He began cataloguing airparks after moving to one in the 1980s. “We’ve had an increase in inquiries from people interested in moving to one and people interested in creating one,” he commented.
|A Cirrus SR22 on the runway at Mountain Air Country Club, a well-established, upscale airpark in Burnsville, N.C. The mountaintop setting and sense of community make it an especially appealing place for aviators to live with their aircraft.|
More than 600 residential airparks are listed in Living With Your Plane’s registry, a score of them in the planning or construction phase. Sclair believes that’s likely an undercount: “Somewhere between 600 and 800 is probably the magic number.”
A stroll around Sun ’n Fun’s exhibit halls and outdoor displays (and phone conversations with airpark residents and developers) reveals no shortage of choices in location, type of community or cost of entry. Airparks aren’t just in the Sun Belt anymore; they can be found in every state, with the exception of Rhode Island and Hawaii.
“If you can move anywhere, there are about as many ways to live with your plane as without it,” said Beaty. She and her husband live on a cattle ranch with a runway, which they purchased to base their Glastar kitplane.
And the dream is within reach of aviators on just about any budget. A lot on a residential airpark can cost as little as $15,000 per acre. For those with bigger dreams, turnkey hangar homes at some developments can run into the millions.
Aero Estates Airpark on Lake Palestine in East Texas provides water access for seaplane and boating enthusiasts. “Our niche is the dream of living with your plane for the average middle-income aviator or sport enthusiast,” said developer and Aero Estates owner Robert Huber. At Sun ’n Fun, he was offering half-acre lots at just under $30,000. To keep costs down, Huber scrapped plans to build a paved runway in favor of a lighted and easily maintained Bermuda grass airstrip.
|Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala, Fla., is a 500-acre gated airpark that attracts aficionados of warbirds and vintage aircraft.|
At the booth for Cannon Creek Airpark in Lake City, Fla., Austin Sessions, broker and director of development, had his shoes off, epitomizing the development’s laid-back lifestyle. “This place is for the middle-class, normal pilot,” he said. The son of the developer, Sessions helped build 30-year-old Cannon Creek and recently moved to the quiet, bucolic airpark. “I wouldn’t change it for the world,” said Sessions, who was initially concerned he’d miss the raucous wilds of Orlando. “I thought I’d go nuts.” But he enjoys the nearby river and easy access to his Cessna 150. “I fly every day,” Sessions said. Cannon Creek holds a fly-in breakfast every Saturday. Such events, hosted by many fly-in communities, provide a great opportunity for people interested in checking out an airpark development.
Aficionados of particular aircraft types can often find properties well suited to their interests. The Leeward Air Ranch in Ocala, Fla., has long been known as a warbird haven. Fans of the Golden Age of Aviation can settle at the Grass Roots Airpark in Mascotte, Fla., which is designed to resemble a 1930s-era aerodrome. And, in addition to its paved runway, the Fort Atkinson Plantation Airpark in Day, Fla., offers a seaplane lane and adjacent homes for seaplane pilots.
Florida is also home to the largest and probably best-known residential airpark, Spruce Creek Fly-In, near Daytona Beach. With a golf course, clubhouse and other amenities, Spruce Creek considers itself not so much a residential airpark as a residential country-club fly-in community. And after some 30 years, Spruce Creek has learned a thing or two about what makes a resident and an airpark a good fit.
|America’s largest residential airpark, Spruce Creek Fly-In, is near Daytona Beach, Fla. Along with the ability to live beside your airplane, the residential “country-club fly-in community” offers a golf course and other amenities.|
“There are two key questions for prospective residents to ask,” said Maureen Reynolds, a broker with Spruce Creek Fly-In Realty. “One, for the nonpilot: What am I going to do if I don’t fly? And two, for the pilot: What am I, as a pilot, going to do if I can’t fly?” In other words, make sure the community meets all your needs—schools, shopping, cultural activities—besides just accommodating your airplane. At Sun ’n Fun, advertised residences at Spruce Creek ranged from a villa under $170,000 to an estate priced at nearly $6 million.
Several newer residential airparks are tapping into this upper end of the market. Perfect Landing AirPark, a waterfront development near Branson, Mo., offers residents deluxe homesites and ancillary services, including security packages and lifetime medical care programs. Access to facilities in the gated community will be controlled by biometric fingerprint scans.
“Personally, my dream is to get in my plane, fly to the airpark, get in a boat and be on the lake,” said Jim Canfield. The former Navy A-6 Intruder pilot now flies a Cessna Cutlass RG and is a partner in the development. Residents will have access to a paved 5,000-foot runway at the adjacent Someday Ranch resort. Complete equestrian facilities will also be available. The aviation/equestrian pairing appears to be gaining traction among upscale developers.
“The husband likes to fly, the wife has horses,” said Chris Donald of this population of potential buyers. Donald’s father is on the development team at one-year-old Big South Fork Airpark in Oneida, Tenn., adjacent to the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. “We wanted to start an aviation-based community with equestrian facilities for the outdoor type who likes airplanes and horses,” explained Donald, who flies a King Air, a Velocity and an RV-8A.
While almost all these communities were built primarily to attract airplane lovers, sometimes nonflying residents become attracted to the airplanes. “We see a lot of people take up flying as a new interest when they come to a place like this,” said Randy Banks, president and CEO of Mountain Air Country Club, a well-established upscale community in Burnsville, N.C. “They’ll buy a fairly high-performance plane—a Cirrus or Diamond—and then learn how to fly.”
And a residential airpark’s runway may increasingly be seen by nonpilots as an asset in accessing a property they find appealing. “You don’t necessarily need to be a pilot to benefit from general aviation,” Banks noted. “With air taxis and fractional programs, a lot of nonpilots are taking advantage of general aviation.”
Meanwhile, here at Sun ’n Fun, there’s room for some of the old-fashioned huckstering that has long characterized real-estate sales. Heaven’s Landing, an upscale development in Clayton, Ga., created by former race-car driver Mike Ciochetti Jr., has apple-cheeked girls in angel costumes hovering around its booth to draw attention.
Virtually all developers of properties, new and old, acknowledge that the current real-estate crunch has affected prices and sales, though not as much as in the nonaviation real-estate market. This could be an advantageous time to shop. But people considering a property on a residential airpark need to do their homework.
|Costa Rica’s first airpark is being developed in Samara, Guanacaste, along the Buena Vista River.|
“The biggest thing is making sure the covenants, conditions and restrictions [CC&Rs] are prepared well, and the development meets your lifestyle and requirements,” said Sclair. “If you fly a jet or want to keep a horse in your backyard, you better make sure there’s no prohibition in the CC&Rs. Whatever your lifestyle is, you’ve got to make sure those covenants allow it. If they don’t, you won’t be happy.”
Perhaps the most important issue involves determining who owns the runway and ensuring that it will be maintained in perpetuity with unencumbered access for residents. “The deed restrictions are terribly, terribly important,” said Sclair, “and people just don’t pay attention to them.”
Despite all the recommendations from experts about due diligence, sometimes the magic of the moment can overcome even the most prudent potential buyer. “It was love at first sight,” said Dr. Bill Marshall of Fort Walton Beach, Fla., who has owned a vacation home at Mountain Air Country Club since the early 1990s. “We made the purchase on our first trip up there, and I’m not an impulsive buyer. I like to analyze and check things out. I wasn’t really looking for a second home,” the Malibu Mirage owner admitted. But the beauty of the mountaintop setting and the camaraderie of the community won him over, and he’s never regretted his decision. Today Dr. Marshall is president of the 100-plus member Mountain Air Pilots Association.
Considering that the sanctity of the runway is a primary concern, “through-the-fence” developments, which offer properties access rights to a publicly owned airport, provide an appeal all their own. SilverWing at Sandpoint, a new development adjacent to the municipal airport in Sandpoint, Idaho, is taking advantage of both this appeal and the demand for high-end, turnkey residential airpark properties. “The vast majority of airparks are on private little grass strips, usually out in the middle of nowhere,” said John McKeown, a partner in the development. “We wanted to find something in an incredible location, on a full-length FAA airport.”
Hangar homes at SilverWing will be priced from $500,000 to $2.5 million. McKeown said that a backcountry flying school will be on the property, as will outfitters who can offer residents and visitors a host of recreational options. “We wanted to make this a destination resort rather than just lots,” said McKeown, who flies a Diamond Twin Star. “It’s not a fly-in community, it’s an aviators’ community.”
I’m back home, loaded down with brochures, DVDs, floor plans of hangar homes and site plans of developments. Just as I begin to wrap my mind around the options, I get an e-mail that sends me back to square one. “In the States, pilots have had easy access to airpark living,” writes Pieter Monsma. “But in Costa Rica, there’s no possibility to land in your backyard. Till now. At this moment, we’re working on the first and only airpark in Costa Rica…”
|For More Information|
|Aviation Homes & Land, Lakeland, Fla.: www.aviationhomes.com
Living With Your Plane: www.livingwithyourplane.com
|Cannon Creek Airpark, Lake City: www.ccairpark.com
Fort Atkinson Plantation Airpark, Day: www.fapairpark.com
Grass Roots Airpark, Mascotte: www.grassrootsairpark.org
Leeward Air Ranch, Ocala: www.leewardairranch.com
Spruce Creek Fly-In, Daytona Beach: www.fly-in.com
|Aero Estates Airpark, Frankston, Texas: www.aeroestatesairpark.com
AirPark Costa Rica: www.airpark-costarica.com
Big South Fork Airpark, Oneida, Tenn.: www.bsfairpark.com
Holley Mountain Airpark, Clinton, Ark.: www.holleymountainairpark.com
Heaven’s Landing, Clayton, Ga.: www.heavenslanding.com
Perfect Landing AirPark, Cedarcreek, Mo.: www.perfectlandingairpark.com
Mountain Air Country Club, Burnsville, N.C.: www.mountainaircc.com
SilverWing at Sandpoint, Sandpoint, Idaho: www.silverwingatsandpoint.com
Sunriver Resort, Sunriver, Ore.: www.sunriver-resort.com