Snyderville Basin Planning Commissioners to consider regulating helicopter use
August 19, 2016
The skies over the Snyderville Basin have been tranquil since the contentious dust up last January between the county and a couple of private helicopter companies that had set up a shuttle service between Salt Lake City and a landing zoning along Old Ranch Road. But the issue could take off again.
The county grounded commercial and private choppers with a temporary zoning ordinance after Basin residents complained about the constant droning during the first weekend of the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. But that six-month ordinance is due to expire and county officials want to find a more permanent solution.
The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission has scheduled a public hearing on Tuesday night, an opportunity for the public to provide input on a proposed amendment to the development code that addresses both commercial and private helicopter activities in the Basin. For the past several months, a subcommittee comprised of representatives from the planning department, attorney's office, Deer Valley Resort and helicopter operators have been working to prepare a draft ordinance that addresses the use. Commissioners are expected to make a recommendation on the ordinance after taking public input.
The draft ordinance opens the door for private and commercial helicopter use in the Basin by expressly listing helicopters and several associated uses within the code and establishing a permitting process for approval. It addresses requirements for heliport and helicopter landing zones, such as placing the sites at least 100 feet away from any non-related residential property lot lines.
The county's current code does not address helicopter use, which, according to officials, means it is not allowed by default. Additionally, the county is only permitted to address the zoning regulations of the landing sites. Flights are regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
"What we are trying to do is we are describing different types of permits and uses," said Peter Barnes, Summit County Planning and Zoning administrator. "There are many common uses that people would find acceptable, such as heli-skiing. But what we are trying to do is put together a much more holistic approach. If there are impacts, how could they be minimized and one of the things we talked about is an approval process.
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"It would go through a level of scrutiny where we can judge those impacts ourselves," Barnes said. "Each one of those processes and locations would vary depending on the type of operations that are involved."
The service during last year's film festival elicited complaints from several residents who lived near Old Ranch Road and prompted the Summit County Attorney's Office to request a temporary restraining order to halt the flights, claiming it violated the county's development code. The request was denied, however, the County Courthouse quickly reached agreements with the two firms to suspend service.
Less than two months later, the Summit County Council passed a temporary zoning ordinance prohibiting non-emergency/medical helicopter landings in the Basin. The temporary ordinance is scheduled to expire on Sept. 9.
"We are proposing these amendments because there was effectively a commercial operation picking up and dropping off passengers out of residential lots and that caused a lot of fear and angst around the neighborhood," Barnes said. "What we have done is try to define or describe circumstances whereby helicopter landing sites may be permitted.
"Helicopters may become more prevalent and used within the community and that's what this ordinance is trying to address," he said.
Basin Planning Commission Chair Mike Franklin said it became obvious to the commission that the code lacks language that addresses the issue. Franklin said he anticipates that helicopter use will increase.
"I think they are going to be a part of transportation and we need to have a way to accommodate that," Franklin said. "I think we have structured some words in there that it will be infrequent and you have to get a permit in many cases.
"We really needed something in our ordinances that addressed this issue and we look forward to having the public comment and seeing where things go," Franklin said.
The County Council is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the matter on Wednesday, Aug. 31.
Tuesday's hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Sheldon Richins Building. To view the staff report and draft ordinance when it becomes available, go to the 'Agenda Center' under the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission at http://summitcounty.org/agendacenter.
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