After a long, drawn-out court battle over their skydiving business, a couple in Florida are glad to see its favorable ending.
For the last several years, the owners of Skydive North Florida, James and Melanie Nipper, have been involved in a legal battle with Walton County. This lawsuit has brought into question whether or not the Nippers can use their own personal land for a skydiving company. The Nippers farmland had been previously blocked for skydiving usage by a lower-court ruling due to zoning issues. Good news came for the couple on January 17th. The Associated Press reported that this ruling against their business had been overturned by Florida’s 1st District Court in an appeal.
Their attorney, Matt Gaetz, who is now a U.S. Representative in the state of Illinois, represented the Nippers in their case. His defense was that Walton County had no grounds on which to prohibit the Nippers from running their skydiving business. The court agreed. According to court documentation, the ruling stated that “the language of Walton County’s zoning code itself is ambiguous and does not establish the county’s case for injunction.” After thorough review, the court stated that Walton County guidelines did not explicitly say that skydiving is not permitted. Therefore, Skydive North Florida will remain in business and will no longer be subjected to complaints, shut downs, and lawsuits from the local government.
Feeling relieved, Jim Nipper told the Florida Record, “My wife and I felt like we were vindicated. We knew all along the zoning business would allow us to operate.
Skydive North Florida business has not suffered due to the lawsuit. Business is still great, and the company did not shut down in more than a year. They were allowed to operate while the case was ongoing. This came as a sigh of relief for the Nippers and their 8 employees, who were not thrilled about the continued problems stemming from their local government. They feel that support of small businesses by the local government is crucial to helping the community grow and be thrive.
“My wife and I feel our local government should work with people of the county and not against them,” Mr. Nipper said.
Since 2008, Skydive North Florida has been targeted by the Walton County government on multiple occasions. Skydive North Florida would constantly be shut down for violating zoning codes, which turned out to not actually be in place. This left the couple to feel like the county offices were intentionally trying to harm their business. They knew they were in the right all along. Nine years later, the finally got the ruling they needed to continue their skydiving business without interference from Walton County.
“When we first started flying skydivers out here, the county would shut us down,” Mr. Nipper said.
Each time county officials came to shut them down, they would reopen again. This became a routine for several months before a lawsuit was officially filed. The Nippers had asked for permission to operate their skydiving business from the Walton County Planning Department. Seeking this permission twice, both requests for operation were denied. According to the planning and development director, the skydiving business was not in line with proper zoning codes and ordinances. It has since been ruled that these zoning codes in Walton County do not affect the Nippers skydiving business in any way. This ruling has left the owner satisfied, but also confused about why their local government decline to support their family-owned business.
Mr. Nipper is certain that Skydive North Florida has helped the local economy. They have had no lapse in business, have a solid staff, and are even hiring a ninth person at the moment. Nipper was quick to point out the benefits of his family-owned skydiving business.
“Most of the customers come off (Interstate 10) and spend at least $100 on something to eat and fuel,” he said.
The Nippers know that their small business helps to stimulate the local economy and brings a good source of income into the area. The couple remains very supportive of their community and is urging their government branches to do the same. Now, the only thing the Nippers have to worry about is keeping their skydiving customers happy.
Northwest Florida is an area where skydiving is indeed hard to find and the more skydiving centers that serve Pensacola, Destin, Panama City Beach and other cities on the Emerald Coast, the better.