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Helicopters again in the public eye: CWC Planning Commission to entertain helipad permit

The commission will review a conditional use permit that would allow a resident to build a private helipad on Gull Lake Dam Road.

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East Gull Lake Planning Commission and city staff members discuss a proposed ordinance amendment to allow private helipads in the city during a work session Monday, Aug. 24, at Cragun's Legacy Clubhouse. Theresa Bourke / Brainerd Dispatch

The Crow Wing County Planning Commission will consider a conditional use permit for a private helipad on Gull Lake Dam Road during its meeting Thursday, July 15.

The issue is one the county inherited from Cass County, after the East Gull Lake City Council struck down a proposed ordinance amendment last fall that would have allowed the construction and use of private helipads in the city.
East Gull Lake resident Doug Schieffer brought the issue forward in 2019 after buying 9 acres of property on Sunset View Road on Floan Point and wanting to commute from his new seasonal home to his office and home in the Twin Cities. But because the city did not have any regulations pertaining to helipads, city staff drew up an ordinance for the planning commission and city council to consider.

The document would have allowed residents with lakeside lots of 5 acres or more to apply for a conditional use permit to build a helipad on their property. Fifteen properties in the city would have been eligible. The permit would have come with several stipulations, including a limited number of takeoffs and landings at specific times, a required aeronautics permit from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, adequate proof of insurance and clear weather conditions.

But through a series of public meetings and correspondence with city officials, hundreds of East Gull Lake residents opposed the measure, worrying noise levels, the effects on the natural environment and, most of all, the risk of a helicopter crash in a residential area.

Schieffer argued against his new neighbors and provided experts who vouched for the safety of helicopters as a mode of transportation and the infinitesimal probability of crashes, along with noise levels not unlike seaplanes or motorboats, which are already prevalent in the city.

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East Gull Lake’s planning commission voted 3-2 in August to deny the ordinance, sending that recommendation to the city council.

The East Gull Lake City Council then unanimously denied the ordinance amendment in September, with two members saying public opposition impacted their decision.

Now in Crow Wing County, an agenda item for the planning commission’s Thursday meeting lists Ryan Collette and Wayne Stock as applicants for a conditional use permit for a private helipad on their properties at 4163 and 4121 Gull Lake Dam Road, which are zoned shoreland and rural residential. Schieffer and David Turnberg are listed as authorized agents on the application and as having a contingent purchase agreement for a portion of the properties.

Nearby property owners have been notified of the issue and will be allowed to voice their opinions on the matter during a public hearing Thursday.

The planning commission will meet at 5 p.m. Thursday in the boardroom on the third floor of the Crow Wing County Historic Courthouse.

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