Helipad proposal fails to get off ground again as board issues moratorium
An attorney representing Schieffer told commissioners during a public hearing Tuesday he believed the moratorium was inappropriate, given the helipad is an allowable use under the county’s ordinance both now and when Schieffer acquired interest in the property in question and made his application.
An ordinance establishing a one-year moratorium on new public and private airports in Crow Wing County once again grounded a proposed helipad sought by a summer resident planning to commute by air.
The Crow Wing County Board unanimously approved an interim ordinance Tuesday, Aug. 10, putting a temporary hold on two types of development to allow further study by county land services staff. One type of development is airports, which the land use ordinance currently allows within a shoreland district with a conditional use permit.
The moratorium put a stop to new applications as well as those in process, of which there is one — an application from Doug Schieffer, who is seeking to construct a private helipad on property along Gull Lake Dam Road. Schieffer’s conditional use permit application was considered by the Crow Wing County Planning Commission last month, when the group tabled the matter in favor of seeking additional input from the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s Aeronautics department.
“The potential negative effects on public safety of a helicopter crash are significant and we need to review whether the standards for airports are appropriate for helipads,” the new county ordinance states.
An attorney representing Schieffer told commissioners during a public hearing Tuesday he believed the moratorium was inappropriate, given the helipad is an allowable use under the county’s ordinance both now and when Schieffer acquired interest in the property in question and made his application. Attorney Kyle Hart further stated the county’s study would likely reveal no new information contradicting a number of professional opinions already gathered.
“The reason there is no evidence is because there is none,” Hart said. “We presented the objective evidence from sound engineers, from the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), and all of the evidence is helicopters are safe, they comply with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency noise ordinances, they do not decrease property values, (and) they don’t make obnoxious emissions any more than a Jet Ski or anything else of that ilk does.”
"Everyone jumps up and down when they see these helicopters in the sky and they think they’re extremely dangerous. The opposite is true."
— Kyle Hart, attorney for applicant
This isn’t the first time Schieffer faced a hurdle to his proposal.
The helicopter issue originally arose in Cass County in 2019, when Schieffer bought land on Floan Point in East Gull Lake to build a seasonal home and wanted to use his helicopter to commute between the new home and his Twin Cities office and residence. But because the city did not have any regulations pertaining to helipads in its ordinances, Schieffer petitioned to amend the ordinance and allow helipads as an acceptable use.
After a series of public meetings and hundreds of comments from neighbors against the proposal, both the East Gull Lake Planning Commission and city council denied the measure in July and August 2020, leaving Schieffer without the ability to build a helipad.
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But he’s trying again, this time with land in which he has interest along Gull Lake Dam Road in Crow Wing County’s First Assessment District. The parcels of land at 4163 and 4121 Gull Lake Dam Road are zoned shoreline district and rural residential. An unnamed natural environmental lake to the southeast of the land creates the shoreland district designation.
A number of residents in the area, however, are not on board with Schieffer’s plan. Fifteen people who live in the neighborhood of the proposed helipad opposed the idea during the public hearing portion of the July planning commission meeting. County officials also received 19 letters of opposition ahead of the meeting. Concerns about safety, noise, wildlife and property values all cropped up, just as they did for East Gull Lake residents last year.
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Hart said Tuesday these concerns are subjective and not based on evidence. He noted the chances of any kind of crash or especially a fatality as a result of the takeoffs and landings at the proposed helipad were nearly nonexistent. Hart cited a projection by FAA officials stating for someone like Schieffer, who expected to take off or land at the site about 40 times a year, it would take nearly 5,000 years to potentially have an incident at his private helipad.
“In the history of FAA compilation of information and statistics, there has never been a fatality at a private heliport,” Hart said. “So everyone jumps up and down when they see these helicopters in the sky and they think they’re extremely dangerous. The opposite is true. They are far safer than a boat, a Jet Ski, a car, a truck — anything. … If that wasn’t the case, there wouldn’t be any helicopters flying in Minnesota, and yet, they’re safe enough they land on top of hospitals, they land on top of buildings, they land in, yes, residential areas.”
The arguments of Hart, who was the only person to speak during Tuesday’s public hearing ahead of the ordinance vote, were not enough to convince commissioners to reject the moratorium. The measure passed with all commissioners in support.