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East Gull Lake committee to explore helipads once more

A special committee of City Council and Planning Commission members will work with city staff to determine if there is a viable option for helicopter accommodations at the city's airport.

East Gull Lake Airport
The city of East Gull Lake is looking into options for a helipad at the East Gull Lake Airport, shown here Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
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EAST GULL LAKE — The East Gull Lake Airport might be the answer after all to the city’s ongoing helipad debate.

During a joint work session of the Planning Commission and City Council Tuesday, May 10, officials agreed to designate two people from each body to work with city staff on finding a final solution to end the helipad discussions that have roused public interest for the last two years.

“I want to get to some finality,” Mayor Dave Kavanaugh said. “I don’t want to sit here and just leave this hanging out. My gosh, we’ve been getting beat up for two years. I’m sick of it.”

East Gull Lake Airport
East Gull Lake Airport Wednesday, May 11, 2022.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

While the city’s airport was previously dismissed as a possibility for seasonal resident Doug Schieffer to land his helicopter as there is nowhere available to store the vehicle there, a solution might now be available.

Both the Planning Commission and City Council struck down an ordinance amendment in 2020 that would have allowed Schieffer to apply for a conditional use permit to build a helipad on his property on Floan Point. Helipads are not an allowed use under the city’s ordinances. Officials’ opposition came after hundreds of residents spoke out against the measure, concerned about issues like noise pollution and safety.

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Many asked why Schieffer could not use the airport to land his helicopter when he flies between his residences in East Gull Lake and the Twin Cities.

In 1984, Madden’s on Gull Lake sold the city the airport and its land for $1. The deed for the property included a covenant stating hangars or maintenance sheds could only be constructed at the airport if they aren’t visible from County Highway 77 and as long as the natural flora is not disrupted. Because building something that couldn’t be seen from the highway would mean disrupting the vegetation, this option was not considered viable before.

More on helipads
The idea of a helipad on private property has become a big issue for the little community of East Gull Lake.

But according to state statute, officials recently learned, covenants relating to the title of property expire after 30 years. And as the original covenant is from 38 years ago, it is no longer valid.

With the new information, city officials believe there could be a compromise at the airport by building new hangars.

“My thought originally on this whole thing,” Planning Commission Chair Bruce Buxton said, “is that we sit down with Madden’s, knowing full well that we could push the covenant as being nonviable — or not even in existence anymore — and say, ‘Look, we want to work with you to understand your concerns about it not looking like Breezy Point or somewhere else.”

There could be conditions on what kinds of hangars could be built and how many would be allowed, Buxton added.

Both Buxton and commissioner Paul Tollefson said they know of other people who would like to have hangars at the airport, but it never seemed like an option until now.

Council member Tim Bergin added the airport typically operates at a deficit, so further development there could help recoup some of the city’s losses.

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The groups agreed to choose two people at each of their next meetings to appoint to a special committee to work with city staff to not only explore the airport option but also see if there are other areas of the city that could be conducive to helipads based on conditions like lot sizes and distance from residences.

Kavanaugh said he believes there are plenty of places in East Gull Lakes where helicopters could land and would like to see a conditional use permit process to allow such a use.

While Buxton said he has made his opposition to helipads in residential areas known over the last two years, one of his goals in meeting with the council Tuesday was to look at how the city addresses inevitable changes coming in its future.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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