Developer says he won't let go of camp plans

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By ERIN MAYES

Jerry Baker envisions an idyllic camp in Groveland for disabled children.

Others see his plans as a disaster waiting to happen.

Opponents say the camp would be unsafe because the site is much too close to Pine Mountain Lake Airport.

But, Baker says there is no history of accidents occurring on his 105 acres of property, which starts about a mile from the end of the airport's runway.

Worrying about airplanes crashing in the camp is similar to worrying about airplanes crashing into your bedroom, he said.

"I think the odds are infinitesimal," Baker said.

Airport Land Use commissioners see it differently.

"I think it's an excellent idea and it's well intentioned," said ALUC Chairman Dick Collier. "But it's clearly in the wrong place."

Collier and his fellow commissioners all but one are pilots agreed that the camp is in a hazardous area and decided to give Baker's preapplication a negative response at their April 23 meeting.

Baker missed the meeting because he'd traveled to Mexico as a volunteer to refurbish schools. He said he was shocked to hear the commission didn't approve his plans.

He got copies of audio tapes of the meeting and said the commissioners' remarks made him rethink the project, so he spoke with several pilots who live in the area. Each told him they would be comfortable having their own grandchildren stay on the property, he said.

"He came right out and asked me, 'would you put your grandkid here?' " said Mike Shaver, a pilot who lives on Pine Mountain Lake Airport. "I don't have any problems with it."

Shaver said he doesn't think there is a safety issue, and he sees the camp's proximity to the airport as an advantage in case one of the children needs to be flown out in an emergency. Shaver had a brother with Down syndrome, and said the camp would be a chance for disadvantaged children to enjoy themselves.

"In defense of what's going on, I just have to believe that not a lot of people have either looked at (the property) or walked it or even done much research," he said.

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The Union Democrat
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