Call it the Aero Club, with a twist: A developer plans to turn a rural patch on the outskirts of Wellington into a new neighborhood that would combine a private airstrip for its residents with barns and equestrian trails.
But opponents have expressed concerns that the project, known as Flying Cow Ranch, would be a safety hazard for the nearby Aero Club, with potentially converging flight paths and an increased risk of collision.
The property sits on 150 acres just south of the Wellington Environmental Preserve and consists of three separate parcels, the two largest annexed into Wellington in 2004 and the smallest added to the village last year. It already includes an 1,800-foot, little-used, unpaved airstrip registered with the Federal Aviation Administration as Loxahatchee Airport.
The project came before Wellington’s Planning, Zoning and Adjustment Board on Wednesday as owners Mark, Timothy and Patricia McCarthy requested to:
- Change the future land use for the smallest piece of the property from Palm Beach County conservation use to Wellington residential “B” to allow for homes to be built.
- Extend Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Area to include the smallest parcel. The other two parcels already are included.
- Add proposed Flying Cow Ranch public and private trails to the village’s equestrian trails master plan.
- Receive approval of a master plan to allow 30 residential units, a clubhouse, an extended airstrip, hangars, barns, a recreational area and a tie-down space for airplanes.
While the board unanimously voted to recommend approval to the village council of the first three requests, its members — except Elizabeth Mariaca, who was absent — held off on giving the OK to the master plan after hearing objections from several longtime Aero Club residents that the project could create safety issues. The project will return before the board at its Dec. 13 meeting, after the McCarthys meet with Aero Club residents.
Some residents noted the proximity of the airstrips and that neither require air-traffic control. Landing orders are largely decided via radio between pilots.
“These airports are only 9,000 feet apart,” said Karl Bennett, a retired 32-year Delta pilot who served in the Air Force and now lives in the Aero Club. The flight patterns “overlap significantly,” he added. “To disregard this overlap would be irresponsible.”
Marcus Cade, a professional pilot for nearly 30 years who also served in the Air Force, is also concerned if Flying Cow Ranch’s airstrip request is approved. He noted that during President Donald Trump’s visits to Palm Beach, general aviation aircraft are not able to land and refuel at Palm Beach International Airport or the Lantana airport.
“Flying Cow could become the refueling stop of choice,” he said.
Some residents also said extending the airstrip to the proposed length of more than 4,800 feet would allow for much larger planes. Jennifer Vail, a planner for Wantman Group and agent for the McCarthys, said if the village gives the OK to the longer airstrip, the Federal Aviation Administration and Florida Department of Transportation then would have to sign off on the change.
“When you start getting into 4,000 feet and larger, than you open the opportunity for Aero Clubs and light jets, Citation’s 500 series,” said board member Kenneth Kopp, himself a longtime aviator and Aero Club resident. “Then you start getting into the near-5,000 foot range, then you open up a whole larger spectrum of possibilities.”
Vail said the McCarthys would be willing to reduce the extensions to about 4,000 feet, similar to the length of the Aero Club runway.
Board member Tommy Bueno, who is president of Stuart-based SkyBlue Jet Aviation and is a pilot proficiency examiner, also lives in the Aero Club. He said he’s concerned the tie-down area could be used by people who do not live at Flying Cow Ranch and could use the open space to drop off and pick up passengers.