2009-02-12 / Front Page

Island heliports may be banned

By Sam Bari

The Planning Commission voted 5 to 1 at its Feb. 4 meeting to recommend legislation to the Town Council prohibiting heliports in any zoning district on the island. Commission member Alexandra Nickol cast the dissenting vote.

A hand-delivered letter passed out to the commissioners from Don and Katherine W. Wineberg and endorsed by 16 Jamestown families expressed their opposition to heliports anywhere on the island. A lengthy discussion ensued before the panel voted to recommend instructing Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero to write an ordinance prohibiting helicopters on the island other than for emergencies.

A draft of the ordinance will be sent to the town council after the planning commissioners review the language.

Although commission member Barry Holland voted in support of the ordinance, he said that he opposed the idea of a commercial heliport but did not oppose individual pads.

Commissioner Alexandra Nickol said that as long as a property was large enough to conform to FAA regulations, she saw no reason for prohibiting residents from having helipads.

In another matter, Zoning Board Chairman Thomas Ginnerty addressed the panel about a recommendation to amend town ordinance 410 governing project review fees.

The ordinance presently requires project review fees for technical consultants for residential plans involving five or more dwelling units and non-residential developments of more than 2,500 square feet. Ginnerty suggested that anyone applying for a building permit be required to have the project reviewed by an engineer who would accompany the application through the review process.

Although the concept was well received by the commissioners, the subject of cost to applicants and to the town played a major role in the discussion.

Ginnerty said that a retained engineer who reviewed applications would speed up the process and avoid applicants submitting requests with faulty plans that required revision before they could be considered.

He cited the limited amount of building space that is currently available on the island as one of the major reasons that applicants are attempting to build on substandard lots. Ginnerty also said that the lots are often difficult to approve for development and that plans must meet stringent requirements. For those reasons alone, expert witnesses should review and accompany every application, he said.

Planning Commission Chairman Gary Girard agreed with Ginnerty and said that consulting a qualified engineer or other expert would make the review process run more smoothly. "We often want to ask questions that applicants are not qualified to answer," Girard said. "Then their case has to be continued so the applicant can get answers from qualified sources, and the process takes that much longer."

The commissioners voted unanimously to advise the town council to provide appropriate language to amend ordinance 410 to include the use of expert witnesses for the review and processing of building applications.

Jamestown attorney Mark E. Liberati represented Dutch Harbor boatyard owners Alison and Larry Eichler in a letter to Town Planner Lisa Bryer.

The Eichlers were disturbed to read in the Jamestown Press that a group of neighbors had approached the town planner and had attended a planning commission meeting to lobby for changes in the existing zoning code.

Liberati's letter said that the Eichlers were not afforded an opportunity to address the proposals and as a matter of "fundamental fairness," he thought they should have been given notice that the lawful uses of their property were going to be addressed at a public meeting.

Mary Brennan and Ken Newman, two of the abutting neighbors who supported changes in the zoning code, assured the panel and the audience that they were not present to oppose the intentions of the boatyard but to assure that zoning ordinances did not provide for businesses that would disrupt the life of the neighborhood.

They said that their intent was not in any way aimed at restricting or impeding any plans that the boatyard may have, and commended the Eichlers for their contribution to the area and the services and improvements they made to the boatyard.

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