Basin Commission recommends banning private and commercial helicopters
Commercial helicopter shuttles and private flights could remain permanently grounded in the Snyderville Basin after planning commissioners agreed this week to recommend banning those services.
More than 10 people testified on Tuesday during a hearing before the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission that they don’t want helicopters landing in the Basin unless it’s for emergency services. Nearly 40 people stayed for the entire two-hour discussion.
“We don’t need helicopters in the Basin,” said Jim Tedford, who lives in Sun Peak. “This is not a right so why are we bending over backwards to accommodate this when I don’t think most of the people really want this… my recommendation is to minimize the number of helicopters.”
While the Federal Aviation Administration has jurisdiction over the operation of helicopters, the county is responsible for enacting zoning regulations concerning the location of landing sites. Summit County staff had asked commissioners to consider an amendment to the development code that listed helicopters and several associated uses.
The draft ordinance under review establishes a permitting process and designates certain areas in the Basin as potential landing sites. The ordinance provides exceptions for emergency services, medical emergency landing sites and special events.
“An exception for festivals? We live in Park City. It is one big festival every weekend,” one person said. “We have to define festival because we have Park Silly every Sunday and I might just want to fly my helicopter in from Salt Lake for it because I don’t want to drive down the canyon. I don’t support this and I don’t support an air-taxi service with helicopters coming in and out.”
Most of the comments echoed the same sentiments, with one central demand: no new helicopter landing zones in the Basin.
The Snyderville Basin Development Code does not currently mention helicopters, which, by default, means it is not allowed. However, an unexpected controversy during the 2016 Sundance Film Festival highlighted the issues with the code’s silence, according to Summit County Development Director Pat Putt. When two private helicopter companies shuttled festival-goers between Salt Lake City and a landing zone along Old Ranch Road it sparked several complaints from nearby residents.
The Summit County Council enacted a temporary ban on new helicopter landing sites in March in response to the complaints. The ordinance is scheduled to expire on Sept. 9.
“We don’t believe that the silence will provide us with the necessary tools to deal with this in the future,” Putt said. “Our recommendation is that we address those types of activities and where they will be allowed. We are not trying to advocate or promote helicopter use by having this discussion, but we know that we have helicopter use in the Basin and we don’t have any regulations to address it.”
After a nearly two-hour discussion, commissioners agreed to recommend that the Summit County Council add helicopters to the development code’s Land Use Table, explicitly permitting select services, such as those related to utility needs, agriculture and construction. Operators will still need to seek approval through the permitting process, but air taxi and private-use helicopters will not be allowed. Services such as heli-skiing will be grandfathered in.
However, commissioners were split on whether to allow an exception for special event master festival licenses. County Council members are expected to consider the item and draft ordinance after taking public input at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 31, at the Sheldon Richins Building.
“Public comment was very consistent about allowing no private landing sites, no air taxi sites and no heliports in the Basin in any zone,” said Colin DeFord, a planning commissioner.
To view the draft ordinance, go to http://summitcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/3697.
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