Editorial: Helicopter Tours Demand Additional Scrutiny By Council

By / Editorials / Wednesday, 11 May 2016 04:00

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.
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 (See report on page 1-A)
There is 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's the real issue.
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 is 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.
If the Town permits helicopter tours in Town under the same definition as go-carts or mini-golf, and it doesn't require a Conditional Use Permit, it will open the door for other companies
to come to Town, find some place to take off and land their helicopter and operate seven days a week.
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 absurd and unrealistic.
The large crowd of people upset with the proposal is 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.
It should not be left up to the interpretation of one or two people  in Town Hall.
As for the personal relationship between Mayor Dan Wilcox and Jessica Ward - owner of the helicopter company - Wilcox addressed that topic at the meeting. (Again, see page 1-A).
He called it a "personal relationship" and said, "it's just that, it's a personal relationship" and that he has no financial gain from that relationship or her helicopter business.
That's fine. But there is a  relationship and while acknowledging that is notable, many people will still suspect some additional level of favoritism even if it's not technically considered a conflict of interest under state law.


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