Helicopter controversy buzzes into Park City for Sundance
January 22, 2016
An unexpected helicopter controversy flew into the Park City area as the Sundance Film Festival opened, buzzing the Snyderville Basin and the grounds of the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, before, apparently, it was grounded on Friday.
Officials in Summit County on Thursday and Friday dealt with the appearance of on-demand helicopter services meant to quickly shuttle people to Park City for the film festival. But the proper permits had not been obtained for take-off and landing locations, according to the County Courthouse, quickly pushing the sides into talks that did not result in an agreement by midday Friday.
There appeared to be two take-off and landing locations off Old Ranch Road, Tom Fisher, the Summit County manager, said on Friday. There was "no official contact" between the County Courthouse and the helicopter firms and no applications had been filed, Fisher said.
Summit County officials had not approved a helicopter operation like the one UberCHOPPER described prior to the start of the festival. The Summit County Planning Department said there is not a zoning district that allows a helipad and the department did not receive an application for one. The County Courthouse received a series of complaints about the operation shortly after the helicopters started taking off and landing.
UberCHOPPER on Friday indicated it had shifted the location to the Summit County Sheriff’s Office, which is located off U.S. 40 in Silver Creek. Taylor Patterson, a spokesperson for Uber, said the alternate site was a "very good solution."
But Roger Armstrong, the chairman of the Summit County Council, and Sheriff Justin Martinez later on Friday said the Sheriff’s Office would not be made available to UberCHOPPER or similar firms.
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Armstrong said there are safety concerns and worries about nuisances caused by helicopters. The Sheriff’s Office is not located within a neighborhood, but it is close to residential areas.
"It’s inappropriate to be using an emergency helipad . . . That’s not what it’s there for," Armstrong said.
The decision to prohibit the landings was made on Friday, he said. Armstrong said the sides might have been able to find a location had UberCHOPPER or similar firms proceeded through the County Courthouse’s permitting process.
Summit County officials had not approved a helicopter operation like the one Uber runs prior to the start of the festival. The Summit County Planning Department said there is not a zoning district that allows a helipad and the department did not receive an application.
Martinez said a helicopter made one landing at the Sheriff’s Office on Friday to allow officials to evaluate the site prior to the decision to prohibit the operation at the site.
"This is a government building and they’re a private organization making money," the sheriff said.
The move on Friday occurred as, it appeared, the County Courthouse was readying to seek a temporary restraining order in an effort to halt the helicopter take-offs and landings. Armstrong said the county attorney informed him of the possibility of a temporary restraining order during a conversation on Thursday.
"Nobody has reached out to apply for permits to do that. They’ve been told permits are required," Armstrong said.
Tom Fisher, the Summit County manager, said earlier on Friday the County Courthouse planned to seek two temporary restraining orders, one against UberCHOPPER and the other one against a similar operation by a firm called Blade. Officials wanted the operations in the Snyderville Basin neighborhood to cease immediately, he said.
"They’re violating ordinance. There’s a huge safety concern," Fisher said, describing that the helicopters were landing on "bare ground that is scraped to be a helipad."
Fisher said there were concerns about the safety of the operation as well as worries about residents and private property. He said it appeared there were two landing locations off Old Ranch Road. There was "no official contact" between the County Courthouse and the helicopter firms and no applications had been filed, Fisher said.
Armstrong said he understood Summit County continued to seek a restraining order.
Taylor Patterson, a spokesperson for Uber, earlier said the Sheriff’s Office site would allow UberCHOPPER to continue to operate "safely and reliably."
"It’s a very good solution. It gets the riders up to Park City," she said prior to the decision to prohibit the helicopters at the Sheriff’s Office.
The service was scheduled to run until Sunday, the end of what is normally an especially busy opening weekend of Sundance. The helicopters were scheduled between 12:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Patterson said two helicopters were flown on Thursday, which was the opening day of Sundance, and the same number were expected to operate through the weekend. She said there was "consistent traffic" on Thursday.
In a prepared statement, Patterson said the site at the Sheriff’s Office would have served riders and accommodate residents. The statement thanked the Sheriff’s Office and the county manager "for their willingness to work with us to come to a solution."