Helipads up for debate in East Gull Lake again
The Planning Commission will consider another helipad proposal Tuesday, March 29.
EAST GULL LAKE — A highly-debated issue again finds itself in front of the East Gull Lake Planning Commission.
Should a resident be able to build a private helipad on his property? Doug Schieffer says it shouldn’t be an issue, but many of his neighbors feel differently.
While some residents on and around East Gull Lake’s Floan Point don’t want what they perceive to be a loud safety hazard in that backyard, Schieffer says safety, noise and proximity to other houses aren’t things his neighbors need to worry about.
The Planning Commission will again weigh in during its meeting Tuesday, March 29.
Both the Planning Commission and the City Council in East Gull Lake struck down a proposed ordinance amendment in 2020 that would have allowed the construction and use of private helipads in East Gull Lake. Schieffer brought the issue forward when constructing a seasonal home on Floan Point, with the desire to commute between East Gull Lake and 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 ordinance, which the city council didn’t adopt, would have allowed for lakeside properties of a certain size to apply for a conditional use permit to build a helipad. The permit would have come with several stipulations, including a limited number of takeoffs and landings at specific times, required aeronautics permit from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, adequate proof of insurance and clear weather conditions.
Hundreds of East Gull Lake residents expressed their opposition to the measure, worrying about excessive noise, impacts to the natural environment and potential safety issues.
Those concerns still stand for some.
“It’s still going to fly over our places. It’s noisy; it’s going to be dangerous,” East Gull resident Jennie Ward said during a phone interview, noting nothing has changed since the proposal was last denied.
In an email to the Dispatch, resident Geoff Barnes argued allowing a helipad in the neighborhood will not promote or safeguard the peace, natural beauty, animals and safety of the community and will just add noise and the unnecessary possibility of a crash.
“The proposal only caters to the narrow desires of one person (or others who copy him in the future) while not providing any benefit to the majority of neighboring households, but further and forever degrades the beauty and tranquility that many residents have cherished and worked to preserve for generations,” Barnes wrote.
Schieffer, however, has argued against all of those points, providing 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 widely used in the city.
Schieffer bought 9 acres of land on Sunsetview Road on Floan Point in East Gull Lake in January 2019 with the hope he would be able to build a helipad on the property to land his helicopter. In 2021, the Crow Wing County Planning Commission tabled a decision on issuing a conditional use permit to Schieffer to construct a private helipad on property along Gull Lake Dam Road. In August of 2021, Crow Wing County established a one-year moratorium on new public and private airports in the county, grounding the proposed helipad sought by Schieffer.
Now, the issue is back before East Gull Lake. A glossy large card mailing to postal customers from EGL Property Rights, with a post office box in Nisswa, stated what Schieffer is seeking in asking the city to reconsider his request.
The card states, “Mr. Schieffer has taken every conceivable precaution in his helipad application with the environment, noise reduction and safety. Also note, Doug does not want to be a nuisance to anyone.”
“Why care?” the mailing states. “Well, we all have rights…what rights could you potentially lose on your land?” On one side, the mailing includes an aerial photo of the property in question with helipad options marked in red and on the other side it has a photo of a helicopter landing in an open field with the statement, “The helipad request by a homeowner in East Gull Lake, MN is about so much more than landing a helicopter... It is about landowner rights here in EGL and all of Minnesota while fully understanding and respecting all neighbors’ desire for quiet enjoyment and safety on their own personal property.”
When the ordinance amendment came up last time, city officials did not let Schieffer talk about his specific plans, as the issue at hand was only the ordinance. His plans would be on the table only if the ordinance passed and he then applied for a conditional use permit. The problem last time, he said, is that other residents talked about their understanding of his plan, much of which Schieffer said was untrue. This time he plans to propose the ordinance changes and apply for a conditional use permit — contingent on the ordinance being approved — at the same time so he can make his intentions clear. His plan includes a heliport on the east side of his residence, surrounded by trees and out of view from neighbors.
“I’ve provided all of the factual information. I’ve hired heliport exports. I’ve hired acousticians. I’ve done everything I can do to provide factual information,” Schieffer said during a phone interview. “The vast majority of people that are in opposition to this — my Plan A with the city does not affect them whatsoever. Not at all. They won’t hear me.”
Plan A is creating a helipad ordinance and constructing a heliport at his residence. Plan B, which is not Schieffer’s preferred plan, would see him landing his helicopter on the nearby existing Steamboat Bay Seaplane Base if city officials strike down the helipad ordinance again. Seaplane bases are considered airports regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, as well as other state agencies, and available for public use.
The seaplane base option, Schieffer said, would be much more intrusive. While Ward and others believe Schieffer is using the seaplane base as somewhat of a scare tactic, he believes he is exercising his rights as a property owner and ultimately trying to choose the least intrusive option.“I’m doing everything I can to be neighborly. If everybody’s got a right to a motorcycle, if everybody’s got a right to Jet Ski, and we live on a seaplane base, I have a right to utilize a helicopter if it does not interfere with your daily life any more than everyday common traffic in the area,” Schieffer said. “So I find it hard to believe that there’s people that want to oppose this when I have a plan that does not affect them whatsoever. I find it very disheartening. With that being said, I’m still trying to do everything I can to be non-intrusive, and I believe my current plan is very non-intrusive.”
The East Gull Lake Planning Commission previously voted 3-2 to deny the helipad ordinance proposal, sending that recommendation on to the City Council, which unanimously voted against the measure.
Despite safety records and licensing requirements, planning commission members against the proposal still said nothing can guarantee complete safety. They also cited the city’s comprehensive plan, saying helicopters do not fit the character of the community.
The Planning Commission is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at East Gull Lake City Hall.
THERESA BOURKE may be reached at
or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at