Florida’s First District Court of Appeal ruled Tuesday to reverse a lower court’s decision to grant Walton County an injuction halting the business of Skydive North Florida, represented by Keefe, Anchors & Gordon attorney — and recently-elected Congressman — Matt Gaetz.
Since 2008, James and Melanie Nipper have operated Skydive North Florida on their 290-acre Walton County farm. Despite the Nippers’ attempt to obtain the proper permissions, county officials told them that their business violated the county’s zoning code. In 2015, Walton County officials initiated a code enforcement action against the business, but the Walton County Code Enforcement Board determined that the business did not violate the zoning code.
Simultaneously, the Nippers sought a circuit court ruling declaring that their business was permissible pursuant to a state law which exempts agrotourism businesses from local land use regulations. That argument was rejected, leading the Nippers to appeal to the 1st DCA. The appellate court ruled Tuesday that the circuit court’s decision had not given the appropriate weight to the Code Enforcement Board’s ruling that the business didn’t violate the county’s zoning code.
“In this case, the County didn’t demonstrate a clear legal right to enjoin the Nippers’ skydiving business,” the DCA opinion read.
Prior to retiring to their farm near Paxton, James and Melanie Nipper both served in the U.S. Army, as a paratrooper and pilot, respectively. Melanie Nipper was recently elected as a member of the Walton County Board of County Commissioners.