Editorial: Town Should Amend Ordinance To Address Helicopters

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 07 September 2016 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

The Carolina Beach Town Council was confronted with a standing room only audience at their May 10th, meeting. Many citizens were there to oppose a proposal to offer helicopter tours during the summer months one or two days a week between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Last week, the same helicopter company requested a zoning permit to offer tours on Sunday's and major holiday weekends.

Town Manager Michael Cramer denied that request on September 6th. (See report on page 1-A)

Many citizens were upset over a special event held last summer on a holiday weekend when tours were offered over Carolina Beach generating noise complaints from residents. There was a question as to whether or not helicopter tours are "permitted by right" meaning they can just walk in and get a permit and start offering tours from a vacant lot across from Town Hall or if such a business would have to be reviewed by the Planning Commission and Town Council in order to get a Conditional Use Permit that could lead to additional conditions on hours of operation, etc.

Another question is whether or not helicopter tour businesses are permitted at all since there is nothing in the Town's "Table of Permissible Uses" that even mentions aircraft or helicopters. That was the basis for Cramer's denial of the request earlier this week.

The ordinance says that if a use isn't expressly listed as a use permitted in a zoning district then it's not permitted.
Common sense dictates that had previous administrations ever intended - during numerous reviews of that ordinance over the years - to include "helicopter tours" or any "helicopter" related business as a use permitted in any zoning district in Town, they would have certainly included language specifically spelling out under what conditions and where such a business could or could not operate.

There was some question as to whether or not "Commercial outdoor recreation" uses defined in the ordinance as "miniature golf, golf driving ranges, par-3 golf courses, standard golf course, miniature racers, go-carts and similar enterprises" was meant to include any use involving a helicopter. Had that been the intention of previous Council's they would have certainly listed "helicopter" as specifically as they listed the other uses. They didn't list it because in those days if a use wasn't listed it wasn't permitted. And if they did intend to permit helicopter tours, they would have certainly created a separate use due to the obvious sensitive nature of the topic.

Go-carts and mini golf don't pass over people's homes and businesses. Helicopters do. And when was the last time a go-cart or a guy with a putter and golf ball caused loud noise repeatedly throughout the course of a day in close proximity to homes?

Exactly.

That's not the case. And to try and place helicopter tours under the same definition is unrealistic.
The large crowd of people upset with the proposal was a clear sign that Council needs to hold a public hearing to consider adding helicopter tours as a use that requires a Conditional Use Permit or clearly prohibit it from occurring anywhere in Town.

That's a value judgement that should be determined through a public process with public hearings held by the Planning Commission and Town Council.

At this point the helicopter company has the right to appeal Cramer's interpretation of the ordinance to the Board of Adjustment (BOA). If the BOA sides with Cramer's interpretation, then the company can appeal that decision to a higher court. If the BOA sides with the company, then the Town can appeal that decision to a higher court.

Following the May 10th, meeting, the Town should have brought the issue before the Planning and Zoning Commission and Town Council to consider an amendment to the ordinance concerning this issue. Even after hearing from many residents at the May 10th, meeting, no one working in Town Hall took action to address an issue that so many residents were clearly passionate about.

While the Council didn't specifically give direction to Town staff during the May 10th, meeting, the need for some form of further detailed discussion and potential amendment to the ordinances was clearly evident.  If the applicant is successful in appealing Cramer's decision to the BOA, and is ultimately permitted to operate in Carolina Beach, any zoning amendment at this point may prohibit other companies from operating helicopter tours based in Town, but this company may end up being grand fathered and allowed to continue as a non-conforming use.

We'll have to wait and see...

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