Judge declines to stop controversial helicopter flights in Park City
January 23, 2016
A judge early on Friday evening declined to grant a temporary restraining order the County Courthouse sought to halt on-demand helicopter services in the Park City area during the opening days of the Sundance Film Festival.
Kara Pettit, the 3rd District Court judge presiding at Silver Summit, denied two applications for temporary restraining orders, which would have stopped the flights for the time being. Summit County Attorney Robert Hilder and attorneys for the parties involved in the helicopter flights or the landing sites focused on issues like permitting and the types of uses allowed on the land.
The helicopter flights quickly caused controversy in the Snyderville Basin as the choppers buzzed overhead on arrivals and departures. Summit County officials said prior to the court hearing there appeared to be two take-off and landing locations off Old Ranch Road. Summit County officials did not approve helicopter operations like the ones occurring and have said there is not a zoning district that allows a helipad.
Hilder told the judge there had been "no permits sought or received." There is not a recognized use in Summit County’s zoning for helicopter landings, he said.
"It is not a commercial area . . . It is not permitted for a landing," Hilder said.
Pat Putt, the community development director for Summit County, under questioning by Hilder, said he had not been contacted directly about the situation and there had not been an application filed. He said the County Courthouse would need to change its zoning rules to allow a helicopter pad, a process that could take up to eight weeks.
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One of the attorneys on the other side, though, questioned whether the Summit County Attorney’s Office sought a temporary restraining order against the proper party. David Jordan sought to learn whether Summit County’s research was accurate and whether the accurate landowner was named in the case.
The Osguthorpes are a large landowner in the Snyderville Basin, but there was a discussion about the conveyance of the property. Jordan said there was no basis to grant a temporary restraining order if the wrong landowner is named.
Hilder countered that the temporary restraining order request was based on protecting health and safety and that the County Courthouse’s filings also named the helicopter parties. Putt, responding to Hilder, said it is not unusual for a government to take action against an entity that is not the landowner itself, such as a leaseholder.
Hilder conceded the ability to name the proper landowner was problematic on Friday afternoon, but he said the temporary restraining order sought to stop the activity of the helicopter flights itself. He said one of the parties named, called Air Resources, is the user. Hilder told Pettit it is believed the proper party is named, but he was not yet able to provide the details.
The hearing, meanwhile, recounted briefly the talks between the helicopter companies and Summit County officials in the last days prior to the opening of Sundance. Jordan said there were negotiations on Thursday about a resolution that would have allowed landings at a helipad at the Summit County Sheriff’s Office.
"Everyone shook on it," he said, describing that the Summit County side later said otherwise.
Hilder responded by saying Summit County attempted to accommodate the situation but later could not more forward.
Pettit told the attorneys toward the end of the 90-minute hearing she was uncomfortable making a ruling on the request for the temporary restraining order with the information she had culled. She scheduled another court date on Monday.
"There’s just too many questions and issues," Pettit said.
Hilder told her there will be problems between her decision on Friday and the court date on Monday. Pettit countered that any harm was undescribed.