Heaven’s Landing: Pilots find paradise atop Georgia mountain

When Mike Ciochetti does something, he does it big. So when he decided to develop an airpark, he didn’t just shoot for the stars. He’s shooting for heaven.

Ciochetti is the man behind Heaven’s Landing, an upscale airpark in the mountains of Georgia, about 90 miles northeast of Atlanta.

A race car driver and pilot, Ciochetti does everything full throttle. So it’s no surprise that the airpark he’s developing features a 5,069-foot concrete runway, the world’s only two-story hangar complex, 1.5 acre homesites ranging from $125,000 to $285,000, with homes priced from $500,000 to $3 million.

Ground has just been broken on the airpark’s clubhouse, which will feature a private lounge, dining room, fitness center, racquetball, tennis and recreational areas. A large swimming pool and Jacuzzi overlook the runway and its mountain vistas. An equestrian stable with bridle and hiking trails also will grace the community.

“Mike’s dream is so much bigger than we hoped for,” said Butch Harben, an airpark resident, pilot and the proprietor of Gainesville Machine Co. in Gainesville, Ga. “All we hoped for was a little grass strip, but what Mike built has changed our perspective.”

CHANGES

Change is nothing new to Ciochetti, who never set out to be an airpark developer. A NASCAR driver by trade, he started racing in Southern Florida in the 1970s. He ultimately found success in 1999 when he was hired by Cale Yarborough Motor Sports in NASCAR’s premiere Winston Cup Series for the 2000 season. With what appeared to be a very bright racing future ahead, a commitment was made to secure the acreage that is now Heaven’s Landing, not to be an airpark, but to be a private fly-in estate.

Then came Oct. 16, 1999. While racing at Talladega Superspeedway — after leading most of the race and with just five laps to go — he got tangled in a multi-car collision, breaking his shoulder. Surgery and 18 months of rehabilitation shattered not only Ciochetti’s dreams of NASCAR glory, but also the reality of owning his private fly-in estate.

Not wanting to lose the property, he switched gears, becoming a land developer instead of a race car driver. A long-time pilot, Ciochetti, who owns a Cessna 210, felt there was a market for an aviation community in Georgia’s Rabun County. He also knew the location, tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains and next to the Chattahoochee-Oconee National Forests, was relatively affluent. With Lake Burton only three miles to the southwest and Highlands, N.C., only 20 miles to the northeast, he joked, “This area is a hotbed for RAPs — Rich Atlanta People.”

Floridians, looking to get away from the three H’s — hurricanes, heat and high taxes — also are flocking to the area.

“Florida has been our hottest market, but we also have people from Illinois, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, California and Louisiana who have bought properties,” Ciochetti said.

Of the 300 overall lots, 118 have sold. Buyers include race car drivers, doctors, company owners, corporate CEOs, judges, retired airline pilots and other professionals, covering a demographic ranging in age from 25 to 70.

Some, like Harben, are building a vacation home, while others will make Heaven’s Landing their primary residences.

MOUNTAIN-TOP PLAYGROUND

For Harben, discovering Heaven’s Landing lets him combine his love of the mountains with his other true passion: Flying.

“I’ve owned a home on a lake for many years,” he said. “And I love to go to the mountains, but when I do, I was away from aviation. So although I could enjoy the mountains and the lake, I couldn’t enjoy my airplanes.”

A true aviator, Harben, who owns a Citation jet, a Skymaster and a 182, enjoys everything about flying. He especially enjoys flying around the mountains, which are “just beautiful.”

His home at Heaven’s Landing, which he and his wife, Becky, designed themselves, is under construction. He describes it as a “small place,” 4,500 square feet on the “tip top of the mountain.”

Nothing will block the couple’s view of the wilderness area, he said, adding they plan to build an outdoor kitchen and a pool. “This will be a huge playground for us,” he said.

The best part? His hangar is right next to his house. In view from his hangar, which has numerous windows and a balcony, is a waterfall, he said. “We are very blessed,” he admitted.

While the views and mountain-top living are a prime selling point for Heaven’s Landing, what’s also important is that the airpark is only three miles from the city of Clayton and its restaurants, stores and more.

“At our cabin on the lake, we were 25 miles from a restaurant,” Harben said. “If you’re not careful, you can become too isolated. Having just a short drive into town is a tremendous benefit.”

Harben also noted that the sophistication of Heaven’s Landing appealed to him and his wife. “It’s on top of a mountain, but it’s not rustic,” he says. “It’s very sophisticated, which meant a lot to my wife. I wanted to make her happy.”

CATERING TO THE JET SET

Keeping his residents and prospective residents happy also is important to Ciochetti. “We are a cut above,” he noted. “All the roads are concrete instead of asphalt. We cater to the jet set. The 5,069-foot runway can accommodate everything from Gulfstreams to Piper Cubs.”

The airpark also boasts the world’s only two-story hangar complex, according to Ciochetti. By taking advantage of the mountainous terrain, the hangar’s lower level is entered from the front, while the upper level is serviced via an elevated taxiway on the opposite side of the building. All hangars have full bathrooms, standing seam roofs and Wilson bi-fold aluminum doors.

Next on the drawing board is a condominium complex built on top of attached hangars. “That’s really unique for an airpark,” he said, noting the idea has come to life at the request of customers. “Many people are looking to downsize and simplify, not wanting the maintenance of a home.”

Meanwhile, construction continues on numerous houses in the mountain-top community. Harben has already met many of his neighbors and is looking forward to many long hangar flying sessions at his mountain retreat.

“I love flying,” he said simply. “I enjoy every bit of it and as soon as you meet someone else in aviation, there’s that common ground.

“We’re living in a time when changes in aviation are just fascinating,” he continued. “As soon as you bump into somebody, you want to see what kind of new toys they have.”

Speak Your Mind

*