Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Red Hook, New York: Special request for weekly helicopter flights has locals upset about the effect on country life



This kind of thing doesn’t happen here. That’s what locals are saying.

The town of Red Hook is quiet, family-oriented, agricultural. Farms sit a stone’s throw in every direction, and you can count the number of traffic lights on one hand in this Dutchess County town of fewer than 10,000 residents. So when a small black helicopter starts taking weekly flights to and from a solar-powered barn and private landing pad without town permission, local opinions run hot.

Jeff Bennett, a resident of nearby Rhinebeck and owner of Rokeby Farm located at the corner of Rokeby Road and Route 9 in Red Hook, has flown his Robinson R44 helicopter to and from his property weekly, and last year was cited by the town for operating a helipad without a permit. His property also doesn’t meet the minimum town standards to operate a helipad: the town permits aircraft landing sites on properties larger than 50 acres at a prescribed distance—300 feet—from the nearest road. However, Bennett’s property is just more than 17 acres, and he’s closer to the nearest road than the minimum distance required.

It’s this perceived flouting of local regulations for personal gain and the downstream effect on quiet country life that has many Red Hook residents peeved. That Bennett’s proposed variance is being reviewed by the town at a time when an increasing number of people from New York City are buying Hudson Valley real estate for greener pastures during the pandemic is a quality-of-life equation not lost on longtime Red Hook residents who are wary of the intentions of wealthy urbanites and the potential Hamptons-ization of their town.

Helicopter flights unto themselves are not entirely unusual here. A few miles north, the 300-acre Greig Farm was granted an airstrip in 2012 for use by the farm’s owners. But a decade ago, Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone magazine who once owned a 63-acre property in nearby Tivoli, was denied a helipad by the town of Red Hook due, in part, to the possible disturbance of nearby American bald eagle nests. Today, locals are focused on Bennett and whether the town will grant special approval for him to continue flying—and potentially pave the way for others to do the same.

In an appearance before the Town of Red Hook Planning Board via Zoom on October 5 this year, Bennett said he was unaware that approvals were needed with the town before building his helipad, citing a New York State law that permits this activity on private properties of 10 acres or more—not the 50-acre minimum Red Hook requires.

At the hearing, Red Hook residents raised concerns about helicopter sound, light, flight patterns and aircraft size. Bennett said his Robinson R44 helicopter makes less noise than a motorcycle, lawnmower or leaf blower, and his attorney, Warren Replansky, said Bennett isn’t using the aircraft to commute and create a daily disturbance.

On November 19, Bennett performed a series of helicopter takeoff and landings at his property to publicly measure the decibel levels. These findings will be taken into consideration by the town planning board as it weighs Bennett’s request for a zoning variance and special permit to be able to continue flying weekly.

Johanna Moore lives right across Rokeby Road from Bennett’s helipad. Her biggest concern with Bennett’s weekly flights is safety, and she has good reason. Bennett’s helicopter is the Robinson R44, the best-selling civilian helicopter that also reportedly has a dangerous safety record, according to a 2018 analysis by the Los Angeles Times of National Transportation Safety Board accident reports.

Moore, a member of the town’s Board of Education, worries about a blade hitting the barn and slinging shrapnel onto neighboring homes, and about the effect the helicopter will have on home values in the immediate vicinity of Bennett’s property. But what she seems most offended by is that Bennett—who isn’t a resident of Red Hook—didn’t ask the town before proceeding with his aerial transportation plans there. “It’s backhanded,” said Moore, who said she has seen Bennett continuing to fly after being cited by the town. “This guy knows how to circumvent the system.”

Like any real estate issue, perspective can depend on which side of the road you live on. What one resident fears is an effort to spoil bucolic country life, another sees as opportunity for growth.

Zach Lewis, a real estate developer who transplanted from downstate six years ago with his wife, has much warmer feelings towards Bennett’s helipad, and believes this is a positive sign of things to come.

Lewis thinks the town can immediately make hay by reaping the tax benefits from permitting Bennett to fly in and out of Red Hook. He also sees a longer game afoot. The convenience of flying and the comparative cost of rail commuting will surely inspire Bennett or others to push the envelope to fly privately more frequently, Lewis speculates. And given Hudson Valley’s central location to places like New York City, Boston and Maine, and airlines cutting back operations at local airports like Stewart International, more helicopters are bound to spin their way over the horizon.

All of this, says Lewis, means Bennett’s Robinson R44 is just the first of a coming wave of wealth and all that comes with it—and is precisely what residents like Johanna Moore would point to as the danger.

3 comments:

  1. Imagine the widespread negative reaction if "Urban Mobility" succeeds at adding passenger multirotor noise pollution to daily living.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Just.. wow..

    "Moore, a member of the town’s Board of Education, worries about a blade hitting the barn and slinging shrapnel onto neighboring homes"

    ReplyDelete
  3. Its not the noise... its the locals complaining about out-of-towners. The same mentality that complains in New York and New Jersey about life flights, Police, and traffic reporting helicopters but if having a haer attack or break in will complain if a helicopter does not show up to help.

    ReplyDelete

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