DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, Fla. — A Florida couple is happy to have its long-term legal battle over its skydiving business finally reach a conclusion in its favor.
James and Melanie Nipper, the owners of Skydive North Florida in Defuniak Springs, had been involved for several years in a lawsuit with Walton County over whether they could use their personal acreage farm for a skydiving business. According to an Associated Press report, Florida's 1st District Court of Appeal on Jan. 17 reversed a lower-court ruling that had blocked the Nippers from using their farm for the skydiving business over zoning issues.
The conclusion from the court, according to court documents, was that “the language of Walton County’s zoning code itself is ambiguous and doesn’t establish the county’s case for the injunction.”
The court said the county’s guidelines do not explicitly say they do not allow skydiving.
“My wife and I felt like we were vindicated. We knew all along the zoning business would allow us to operate,” Jim Nipper said told the Florida Record.
The Nippers were not happy with their local county government, as they felt they continued to want to harm their business by filing suits after a number of years, Jim Nipper said.
“My wife and I feel our local government should work with people of the county and not against them,” he said.
“This has been off and on since 2008. When we first started flying skydiver out here, the county would shut us down,” he said.
He said the suit filed by the county was “all about zoning ordinances and code violations.” The Nippers would would open, then the county would shut them down, then they would open again, a routine that went on for months.
Prior to the suit, the Nippers asked the county government for permission.
“The Nippers twice sought permission from the Walton County Planning Department to operate the skydiving business on their property,” the suit said.
After asking, the Nippers quickly learned they were declined to run their business, as the planning and development director said it was not in line with proper zoning codes.
Jim Nipper made clear that the suit had not hurt or affected business.
“It’s been the same. We never shut down in over a year. We were allowed to stay in business while the suit went on,” he said.
In addition to providing services for skydivers, Skydive North Florida has eight employees and is currently hiring. Jim Nipper also made clear that he is supportive of his local community and knows his business brings income to the area economy.
“Most of the customers come off (Interstate 10) and spend at least $100 on something to eat and fuel. It has definitely helped out the economy,” he said.
The Nippers were represented by Matt Gaetz, who recently was sworn in as an U.S. representative from Illinois, according to the Associated Press report.