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Thursday, June 30, 2011

OVPC Makes Good Progress on the Issue of Heliports in the Ogden Valley

Guest post by Lee Schussman, Eden

On Tuesday evening, June 28, 2011, in a marathon-length session that lasted the full three and one half hours allotted for such meetings, the Ogden Valley Planning Commission (OVPC) tackled the problems associated with commercial helicopter landing and takeoff sites (“landing zones” or LZs) in the Ogden Valley.

Newly elected Commission Chairman Kevin Parsons and Commissioners Graves, Howell, Montgomery, and Warburton fully upheld their previous commitments to accept public input and to devote time and effort to the heliport issue.

At the meeting, Sean Wilkinson of the Weber County Planning Division reviewed the last 18 months. During that time, commercial helicopters have operated out of the Ogden Valley without the necessary Conditional Use Permit (CUP), there has been much public concern and discussion on the issue, an emergency CUP has been issued, a subsequent heliport CUP application has been denied, an appeal to that denial has been filed, and an application to remove heliport from CV-2 zoning has been filed. (For more detailed history, please see previous postings on the Ogden Valley Forum under “heliport.”) Mr. Wilkinson stated that the use of helicopters in the Ogden Valley is believed to be desirable in appropriate locations. Given that assumption, he went on to recommend that the OVPC needed to define “heliport” and “helistop”, and he outlined four possible options for the OVPC to consider regarding helicopter LZs:

1. Remove heliport as a designation in CV-2 zoned areas (all of which are currently on the valley floor.)
2. Allow heliports only above 6200 feet in elevation.
3. Allow heliports only above 6200 feet in elevation and only in DRR-1 zoned areas (the zoning for some ski resorts).
4. Allow heliports in any ski resorts (regardless of the resorts current zoning) above a certain elevation.

Ogden Valley residents David Holmstrom (who had started the process and financed the applications to change the text of the Weber County CV-2 zoning ordinances), Steve Clarke (who is head of the Ogden Valley Gem Committee), Ron Tymcio, and Lee Schussman had all variously presented at OVPC meetings, met with County Commissioners, obtained input from many dozens of Ogden Valley residents, and met with many business people from the Ogden Valley. At Tuesday’s meeting, their input was repeatedly welcomed by the OVPC, and vigorous discussions ensued.

Among the many issues discussed were:

1. Definitions need to be established. Likely the OVPC definition of “Heliport” would include permanent infrastructure facilities for such things as fueling, maintenance, parking, and other customer services at the site; and “helistop” would simply be a landing pad with no other permanent facilities.

2. The desirability of keeping LZs off the valley floor.

3. The need to continue to address safety and noise considerations.

4. The possibility of placing a limit on the minimum elevation for helicopter LZs—likely 6200 feet.

5. A need to decide on the CV-2 zoning issue: “Heliport” can be continued as a conditional use in CV-2 until other plans for helicopter LZs can be made, since no CUPs would be granted now until the issue is resolved. (If a minimal elevation is established as 6200 feet for LZ’s, it may be a moot point to remove heliport from CV-2, as all current CV-2 sites are on the Valley floor.)

6. The desire to accommodate and promote legitimate business interests in Ogden Valley.

7. The need to include possible future roles of helicopters for uses other than heli-skiing. Activities such as sight seeing, hunting, cross country skiing, and access to back country areas were all discussed.

8. The need to decide in which zoning areas heliports and helistops should be allowed so as to not discriminate in granting CUPs to one business over another.

9. The possibilities of having zoning in some areas for helistops (e.g. F-40, Forest Zones) and in others for heliports (e.g. DRR, resort) zones.

10. The fact that “airports” are already in the F-40 zoning ordinance could make it logical to also include “helistop” there.

11. The potential for any legitimate business to plan and place helipads in F-40 zones should help create a development-friendly accommodation for such future LZ areas.

12. The possibilities (or lack there of) of placing conditions (such as altitudes and flight paths) on helicopters.

13. The desirability of establishing fair, enforceable policies now to avoid repetition of the last 18 months and future problems.

The OVPC concluded the planning session by requesting that the staff:

1. Create formal definitions of heliport and helistop.
2. Report back with a process that would keep heliports and helistops off the Ogden Valley floor by establishing a minimum elevation of 6200 feet for LZs.
3. Report back with a process that could place “heliport” in the DRR zone and place “helistop” in the F-40 zone.

These are HUGE steps in the right direction. Proper siting of heliports is a complex and specialized issue, and the OVPC deserves MUCH appreciation and thanks from all Ogden Valley residents and businesses as it continues with the very difficult tasks necessary to protect the interests of both Valley residents and potential Ogden Valley businesses.

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