Thursday, January 08, 2015

AVIATION BATTLE: Petey's restaurant helicopter pad sparks fight in Rye • Aiken vows to fight cease and desist order

RYE — The Zoning Board of Adjustment denied rehearing a restaurant’s owner appeal of the town’s order to stop helicopter landings and takeoffs from his property, setting up an expected court battle.

The board on Wednesday voted 4-1 to deny a rehearing of Peter Aiken’s appeal to Building Inspector Peter Rowell’s cease and desist order from July 25 that said to “immediately stop” using the property of his restaurant, Petey’s Summertime Seafood, on Ocean Boulevard to land helicopters. However, helicopters continue to do so.

“We had a helicopter come yesterday,” Aiken said in a phone interview following the meeting. “They’re still coming.”

Aiken did stop allowing Seacoast Helicopters of Portsmouth to land. Seacoast Helicopters had staged weekly rides during the past year until the arrival of Rowell’s letter. “That’s what brought the problem,” Aiken said. “We stopped all that.”

Aiken said he has also directed the helicopters that still use the site to enter and leave over the marsh behind the restaurant instead of flying over neighboring houses and the shoreline, which caused concern from many of his neighbors.

Aiken said he would continue to fight the cease and desist order, likely landing him in court against the town. He felt confident in his case, because he said there are no laws prohibiting helicopters from landing on his property.

“The neighbors are upset, but there are no laws against it,” he said.

Rowell’s letter to Aikens stated, “Immediately stop the use of your property as a landing area for helicopters and the operation of a tour business,” and listed four local ordinances that he was violating. Rowell also noted that the usage of the helicopters on the property wasn’t listed on the consent order signed by the town and Aiken in 2001. “I have seen no approvals from either the town of Rye or the NH DES (Department of Environmental Services) to allow this type of use,” Rowell wrote.

However, one of the four ordinances Rowell cited was written incorrectly, which cited ordinance 202.9B, when it should have been ordinance 202.9D. ZBA member Shawn Crapo, who voted against the appeal at last month’s and this week’s meeting, citing the error.

“It’s a flawed document,” Crapo said. “I think we made an error in upholding it.”

ZBA member Patricia Weathersby disagreed. “I don’t think we made an error in our decision making or that our decision was unreasonable,” she said.

Aiken’s attorney, Tim Phoenix, had argued at the December hearing, according to the meeting minutes, that the site was used for “helicopters and as a helipad since the 1950s,” which “predated zoning and was an established use,” and that a concrete helipad was installed in the 1970s, and was used until the 1980s. Beginning in 2000, Aiken re-established the use of helicopter landings and takeoffs for some of his friends to land at the restaurant for dinner and leave.

From 2000 to 2008, Phoenix said, according to the minutes, the site was a licensed helipad through the state’s Bureau of Aeronautics. The license expired in 2008, but was reissued after Rowell’s cease-and-desist letter. However, Aiken said a permit is not needed to land a helicopter as long as there are no local, state or federal laws prohibiting it.

“Even if I don’t have a pad or the permit, I can land [a helicopter] anywhere I want,” Aiken said following yesterday’s meeting.

Aiken has 30 days to appeal the board’s decision to Superior Court.

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