Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bushkill Township, Pennsylvania: Supervisors approve helicopter pad on Keller Road property

Attorney David Jordan provides closing arguments before the Bushkill Township Board of Supervisors.
 (Pamela Sroka-Holzmann|

Bushkill Township residents living near Keller Road soon could see a helicopter taking off and landing after supervisors gave the OK for businessman Richard Villone to construct a heliport on existing farmland.

Villone and his wife, Heather, of Bethlehem Township, Pennsylvania had filed an application on Aug. 4 to construct the private-use, 200-by-200-square-foot landing pad on land they are seeking to buy in the 1100 block of Keller Road.

Township supervisors on Thursday unanimously gave the nod following a handful of hearings with experts providing testimony. Supervisor Julianne Bender made the motion to grant the couple conditional use approval and Supervisor Carolyn Hill seconded it.

Supervisors set various conditions on the heliport.

Villone will not be able to store fuel on the estimated 77-acre property -- something he had wanted to do in an above-ground trailer. The helicopter's noise can't exceed 65 decibels and Villone will only be able to fly an hour before sunrise to an hour after sunset. He also must limit his travel to 20 trips per week and no more than four trips per day.

All the conditions were set forth by supervisors' Vice Chairman Jason Smith, who is board liaison to the township planning commission. Township planners had recommended supervisors approve the landing pad.

When asked if the Villones can comply with the conditions, David Jordan, the attorney representing the couple, said he would be discussing it with his clients. Jordan said he would have rather had specific times set by the board than sunrise and sunset.

"We're happy that they accredited our application and they believe the Villones will act properly and neighborly," Jordan said.

Neighbors in opposition of the helicopter pad expressed disapproval when leaving the meeting.

A petition previously had gathered an estimated 200 signatures against the project. However, resident Bill Sprague, who spearheaded the petition, later rescinded his and two other signatures and waged support for the Villones.

"We're disappointed," said Baron Road resident Richard Steiner after the vote. "I think there was certainly enough conditions for the supervisors to be able to find opposition to the application."

Colleen Brooks, who operates nearby Williams Manor Personal Care Home, had said the peace and tranquil living marketed by her facility will be destroyed by the helicopter. The facility's patients include those diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease and dementia and others, under hospice care.       

"It's a safety issue," Brooks said, noting patients could become startled by the noise.

In closing arguments, Steiner, representing Baron Road residents, had blasted Richard Villone for not providing a private demonstration of the helicopter at the request of neighbors. He said a study conducted by Norman Dotti, an acoustical engineer from Butler, New Jersey-based Russell Acoustics, wasn't convincing enough.    

"The applicant has failed to demonstrate that the quality of neighborhood life for these long-term residents will not be adversely affected," Steiner argued. He said many residents have horses that could become spooked by the helicopter and riders will have to endure safety risks.  

Jordan told the board Steiner was "throwing things at the wall and hoping they stick."

Jordan had advised his clients not to do the private demonstration because he believed objectors would continue to voice opposition no matter what had taken place in the demonstration, he said.

Jordan poked holes in Steiner quoting national crash statistics pertaining to a Robinson R44, Villone's helicopter model. Jordan said it is one of the most popular models in the world and used during training exercises. He blamed a recall for the crashes and said there haven't been any deaths since the gas tanks were fixed based on that recall.

"You have no proof that anything bad is going to happen from this heliport," Jordan told the board.

He said horses also can be spooked by under things, such as motorcycles.

Richard Villone has been a licensed pilot since 2008, with extensive training completed as required by the Federal Aviation Administration, Jordan told the board. To date, Villone has flown 300 hours and only needed 25 hours to be licensed, he said.         

"He could have come and said, 'I got my license and I want my heliport,'" Jordan said "He said (six years later), 'I think I am good enough and safe enough to put my heliport in your township.'"

This is the fourth heliport to gain approval in Bushkill Township.

Township supervisors previously have given the nod to private helicopter pads in the 1200 block of Bushkill Center Road on seven acres; 900 block of State Park Road on 19 acres and 1300 block of Church Road on 10 acres.


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