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Ordinance would require hearing for new heli-ports


March 17, 2011

The Haines Borough Assembly on March 8 advanced an ordinance that would make heliports a conditional use in the general use planning and zoning district.

The district encompasses the bulk of lands in the borough, minus the townsite and Lutak and Mud Bay land use service areas.

Currently, heliports in that area are a use by right, and the ordinance would require a Haines Borough Planning Commission public hearing before a new heliport is approved.

"There are a lot of us who live out there because we want to be remote, but there are neighborhoods, so it is important that there be a public process by which we do consider where the heliports will be," said 40 Mile resident Carolyn Weishahn.

The ordinance is set for a second public hearing Tuesday.

The assembly this month adopted a helicopter skiing ordinance that included Haines Airport, the Stewart landing strip at 18 Mile Haines Highway and a heliport at 33 Mile Haines Highway as heliports to be used for commercial ski tours, along with "any heliport authorized by the Haines Borough Planning Commission as a conditional use."

Scott Sundberg of Southeast Alaska Backcountry Adventures March 8 said other locations also have been used for heliports historically, such as at 10 Mile Haines Highway.

"Heliports generally generate under 75 decibels within 100 feet, and my concern with a title 18 amendment is that we need specific parameters that the nation has used to identify heliports," Sundberg said.

Landfills, commercial power plants, cemeteries and hazardous materials storage facilities require a conditional use permit in the borough, and Sundberg said those uses are "pretty intense."

"The operators that are here and have been here for 10 years have tried to make a move to where they can control their future by buying pieces of property very thoughtfully, where they’ve considered their operations and their impacts to their neighbors," he said. "The assembly needs to consider that..."

SEABA’s desire to use their own property at 26 Mile Haines Highway for a heliport has drawn opposition.

Assembly member Scott Rossman voted against the heliport ordinance March 8. He had questioned whether its requirements would be applicable to federal and state land. Borough manager Mark Earnest said they would. Rossman said this could impact several businesses.

"There are definitions, I think, that we need to take a look at. What constitutes a landing zone, what constitutes a heliport, what constitutes a helipad?" Earnest said.

Planning commissioner Rob Goldberg said the ordinance would apply to where the helicopters take off.

"Just like the heli-skiers have many different landing points, but they all originate out of one place, so a heliport, I think, would be defined as something like where the helicopters sit overnight, where they refuel, where they’ve done maintenance on them - base camp," he said.

When the heliport ordinance had been introduced Feb. 22, "waterfront industrial, commercial, waterfront, significant structures area, single residential, multiple residential, rural residential and rural mixed use zoning districts" also were listed to have heliports as a conditional use.

Earnest said that version of the ordinance had been drafted in error.

"At the last planning commission meeting we discovered the error that caused all this uproar," Goldberg said. "Back in November, the planning commission put forward a recommendation to the assembly to add heliports as a conditional use in the general use zone. Somehow, in the transcription between what we did at the meeting and what was sent to the attorney, the words ‘general use zone’ were left out."

Resident Stephanie Scott commented that she had been particularly confused by a Feb. 16 memo from borough attorney Brooks Chandler that referred to "balancing between more restrictions on heliports in some areas and less restrictions on heliports in other areas."

"The areas (Chandler) chose with which to strike this balance were the general use zone and, explicitly, his words, the Mud Bay zone," Scott said. "There has been a lot of public discussion regarding the use of land for heliports in the general use zone, where under current law, heliports are permitted, but I was surprised to see heliports in the Mud Bay zone pop up."

She noted the amended version of the ordinance presented March 8 "would preserve the land use status quo in the Mud Bay planning and zoning district."

According to Chandler, heliports are not allowed at Mud Bay "unless the heliport was developed before zoning was extended to Mud Bay or unless a heliport qualifies as a ‘commercial enterprise’ in which case it may be allowed as a conditional use."

"There was no intention of having the Mud Bay zoning district included in this ordinance," Earnest said March 8.

Goldberg said the ordinance now specifically addresses the general use planning and zoning district.

"One version of this that came from the lawyer prohibited heliports in the general use zone, and the planning commission saw that there were many possible reasons why a heliport would be necessary in the general use zone," Goldberg said. "For instance, if you have helicopter logging in a remote area, you might want to go set up a heliport for that, and the condition might be that the heliport operates during the time of the helicopter logging, and then it shuts down."