Friday, June 8, 2012

Horry County, South Carolina: Lack of zoning rule complicates helicopter noise issue

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) A group of neighbors coming together are causing elected officials to take action after dozens of complaints about helicopters taking off and landing near a neighborhood. Horry County Public Safety Committee Chair Brent Schulz says he's been bombarded with about 75 calls and emails of complaints about the situation. 

 He says he's never seen anything like this in Horry County before, and right now he's stumped about how to solve the situation. Horry County Council called a special public safety meeting just because of what's happening in Plantation Point neighborhood.

The special public safety meeting was held at the Horry County Government and Justice center starting at 12 p.m. Thursday. Representatives from Helicopter Adventures, the FAA, and the communities came together to discuss the issue.

"The main purpose for the meeting is to discuss how we got to where we are now," said councilman Schulz. "To let the public know, to let the council members know, and also to mitigate the problem. How are we going to mitigate the problem."

Some council members say they're concerned about the approval process for new businesses knocking on the county's door. They say because they've declined two requests for helipads in the county already, and they're wondering how this one slipped through.

During Thursday's meeting, councilmen on the Public Safety Committee told those in the planning and zoning department that better communication should have been used and they should have told everyone this project was being approved.

Currently, there is no zoning rule for having an amusement/helicopter attraction. The county is considering adding a new ordinance that would have rules for helicopters or a business like this.

In the meeting, it was also discovered that the noise tests that have been done weren't done in areas closest to the helicopter pad. The Public Safety Department was told to get with an independent consultant and to install noise meters to measure the noise in those areas.

As far as home owners go, everything for this attraction has been approved and done, so they're kind of between a rock and a hard place. Now homeowners can only complain enough to get the attraction deemed a nuisance or file an injunction/sue.

Officials with the department insist the helicopter noise falls right under the county's noise level requirement of 70 decibels. But WMBF News learned the requirement for neighborhoods falls lower than that at 60 decibels, and these helicopters are straddling that thin line.

At Thursday's meeting, county officials are going back to square one. The Horry County Planning Director Janet Carter will go over in detail the process the department went through to approve the helicopters hovering near homes.

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