Sunday, September 18, 2016

Tempers flare at hearing for proposed Bushkill Township helipad

Residents fill the Bushkill Township Vol. Fire Company Hall on June 16, 2016 for a conditional use hearing for a proposed helicopter landing pad on Seifert Road. 

Neighbors of a proposed private helicopter landing pad had their chance to again speak out Thursday night during a hearing in Bushkill Township.

Eric Michelman testified that his house is 236 feet from the proposed private heliport and he will be impacted negatively by the vehicle taking off and landing.

Township supervisors are conducting a conditional use hearing for pilot Francesco Lazzarini, who said he would like to install paving stones in an 80-foot-diameter to land his company's helicopters on his Seifert Road property.

Lazzarini, chief operating officer and director of operations for HeliFlite, a helicopter charter company, is asking the township to allow him to build the helipad so he can fly aircraft home from work no more than 25 times per year.

At two previous hearings, residents and Michelman's and Lazzarini's lawyers questioned sound and safety experts hired by Lazzarini to testify on his behalf.

On Thursday, about 22 of the approximately 30 people at the hearing provided their comments to township supervisors. The majority opposed the proposed helipad and cited noise, safety and decreasing property values as their main concerns.

One resident presented a petition with 250 signatures in opposition to the helipad.

Historic sites are opening their doors to celebrate the 275th anniversary of the community's founding.

Lazzarini said previously the initial 90 seconds of taking off is when the majority of the noise exposure takes place and his helicopter would be out of Northampton County's airspace in less than five minutes.

The approved Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's approach and departure paths do not go over nearby residential developments, where many of the objectors live, Lazzarini said.

"Flying over someone's house at 300 feet is intrusive," Lazzarini said.

"Will you be flying over anyone's house at 300 feet?" township solicitor Gary Asteak asked.

"Negative," Lazzarini answered.

Michelman said Lazzarini has already landed his helicopter several times without a permit since the pilot bought the property in February 2015. Several nearby neighbors said the helicopter was loud enough that sound waves rattled their homes' windows.

Michelman said he was skeptical that his neighbor would adhere to flight paths and proposed flight frequency, considering Lazzarini has already disregarded township laws.

The township zoning ordinance allows private helipads under certain conditions and there are several in the township, including one approved in 2014 for Richard Villone on Keller Road.

Lazzarini's lawyer Stanley Margle cited three examples of homes in the township being sold for more money than they were purchased since Villone's helipad approval. That disputes the notion that helipads decrease surrounding property values, according to Margle.

Michelman said he spoke to a real estate agnet who estimated values would drop five to 20 percent and he will present that witness at the next hearing.

The hearing became contentious at times, with Lazzarini and his family trading barbs with audience members. That led Asteak to provide warnings about civility several times.

Township resident Lisa Ruth, one of the few helipad supporters at the hearing, said it is unfair to demonize the Lazzarinis.

"There are a lot of people in Bushkill Township who support the helipad," Ruth said. "I think it's really cool."

Asteak adjourned the hearing at about 10 p.m. and said the next meeting will be at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 20, at the Bushkill Township Volunteer Fire Co. hall, depending on its availability.

Considering public comments are closed and there is only one witness scheduled, it is likely the supervisors will vote at the conclusion of the next hearing.


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