Giving Park City the bird — literally | ParkRecord.com

Giving Park City the bird — literally

Amy Roberts, Park Record columnist

I hate the word "literally." It’s used way too often and rarely in the right context. You did not literally fall out of your chair in shock. You aren’t literally about to starve to death and nothing literally blew your mind. If that literally were the case, you’d be a skinny, headless heap on the floor.

But just this once, I’m going to make an exception. Last weekend, Uber gave Park City the bird, literally.

You’ve probably heard the app-based, on-demand taxi company decided to offer helicopter service during the first weekend of Sundance this year. For a couple hundred dollars, the stars could arrive in Park City via helicopter. Because private jet landings in Heber are so 2014.

The company did a large and very successful media blitz about this new service. So successful some reporters actually decided to ask the question, "So where exactly are you landing?"

This question was initially dismissed. "We’ll find a place," was essentially the company’s response. So the media asked the city and the county for a list of likely landing zones, to which the reply was, "There aren’t any."

That’s because Uber (and the other copycat helicopter companies that quickly latched onto this idea) didn’t apply for permits to land a recreational helicopter in the county limits. I imagine the conversation at Uber headquarters went something like this:

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Intern: "They say we don’t have permits to land! What should we do?"

CEO: "Permits? We’re rich. We don’t need permits."

And that’s pretty much how they proceeded to operate. And thus, a new Sundance hashtag was born. #Choppergate went viral.

Neither the city nor the county were okay with the helicopter company’s blatant disregard for the local land use ordinance and vowed to stop it. After which I can only imagine the follow-up conversation at headquarters went something like this:

Intern: "They are seeking a temporary restraining order and say they’ll arrest our pilots and impound the birds!"

CEO: "I don’t understand. We have lots and lots of money. Certainly this means we can put an airport in someone’s front yard?"

For a few hours, the standoff was intense. Both sides thumped on their chests. A cease and desist order was issued. All of the helicopter companies said they would continue to operate regardless of the land management codes. The sheriff and a judge got involved. I was somewhat surprised the Bundy militia didn’t show up and take over the Swaner Nature Preserve in protest.

Ultimately, all of the helicopter companies involved got their wings clipped. I’m not sure if that was because the companies decided to do the right thing, or they couldn’t find a pilot willing to risk jail time over this. But either way the service was stopped. And the writers for this year’s Follies have their script written for them.

While the entire situation is pretty amusing, at least now that it’s over and was resolved somewhat amicably, I’ve been surprised to hear anyone defending the helicopter companies and/or landowner who turned his property into a private airport.

I’m all for the entrepreneurial spirit. Even if the idea seems absurd to me, there was clearly a market for it. But ordinances and rules are in place for a reason. Those same ordinances and rules protect me from one day waking up and finding my next door neighbor decided to start a pig farm in our adjoining backyards. No one gets to say, "Hey, I’m just practicing free enterprise. I have the right to make money. Sometimes capitalism smells, deal with it."

You still have to follow rules. Ordinances are in place for a reason and permits are required to run a business, even if it is on private property. There is nothing debatable about that. Literally.

Amy Roberts is a freelance writer, longtime Park City resident, and the proud owner of a rescued Dalmatian named Stanley.