Feud between Middletown, skydiving business continues as supporters speak at meeting

Supporters of a skydiving company threatening to leave the Middletown Regional Airport because of ongoing conflicts with the city attended the city council meeting on Tuesday as the next step in recent activity surrounding the airport debate.

Start Skydiving owner John Hart II has said the city’s recent decision to move the skydiving landing zone is the latest dispute that has now caused him to consider moving to another location. Hart II said he and his business were not consulted and the new location is unsafe.

Acting City Manager Susan Cohen responded late last week with a lengthy statement supporting the city's efforts and saying it had communication with Hart II and his company. Click here to read the city's statement.

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The meeting with the city council’s first in-person gathering since concerns over the coronavirus caused many governments to hold meetings virtually. About 30 people, many of them masked, could sit in the lower level of the chamber, and most were supporters of Start Skydiving.

Council Clerk Amy Schenck read 23 emailed letters into the record, and another 15 people spoke for three minutes or more, all in opposition of Start Skydiving being forced to move their landing zone as recommended and approved by council at its May 5 meeting.

The turnout of letters and residents commenting on the issue was encouraged by John Hart II, a co-owner of the family-owned Start Skydiving. Hart II has spent the last two weeks on a media and social media campaign urging people to contact council in support of the business.

One speaker Ray Miller, a 50-year-pilot, told council that none of them had the right to question Hart II’s knowledge or opinion on the matter because they were not pilots.

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Another skydiver, Brian Marzlow became emotional as he spoke, saying an official vote should have been taken on the landing zone move and the city did not work in good faith with Start Skydiving. Marzlow called the city’s actions “a campaign of retaliation” and said that any decisions to move the landing zones be held until the new city manager begins work in July so he “can investigate any wrongdoing.”

Skydiving instructor Larry Compton told council that the decision affects efficiency. He said it takes about four minutes to load a plane of people skydiving and the new location will take reduce the number of jumps because of longer turnover.

“We have six months to make the bulk of our yearly income,” he said.

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Another pilot, Brian Pangburn, said the new landing zone could potentially cause a collision between a plane and a skydiver. Cohen asked if a landing zone move closer to the runway would that alleviate that issue. He said it would.

Some of the speakers questioned why council did not talk with Start Skydiving, the Federal Aviation Administration or others before making the decision. Cohen said during her comments that the city had tried to communicate with Start and others as she held up a thick binder with copies of the emails and letters sent by city officials.

She also said the FAA flight safety office in Cincinnati said Tuesday the city could designate where it wanted to locate landing zones. The city has been working since 2017 to complete its airport master and airport layout plans and has been stalled because of the stalemate with Start Skydiving.

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Councilwoman Monica Nenni thanked those who made comments but added she was not convinced that the new landing zone was unsafe.

Mayor Nicole Condrey, who formerly worked for Start Skydiving and is a member of Team Fastrax, a skydiving team operated by Start, is under an Ohio Ethics Commission advisory opinion not to participate in or discuss issues between the city and the skydiving/aviation company. However, while she can speak on other airport issues, Condrey charged the city Airport Commission for violating the state’s open meetings laws.

She also said some Airport Commission members should not be on the commission for missing two meetings in a row. Condrey also called out the city’s Civil Service Commission, Planning Commission, Architectural Review Board, Board of Health, and library board for various discrepancies in their minutes.

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