ST. GEORGE — An Ivins man has launched a pre-emptive strike against a helicopter sortie … of sorts.
Mike Scott, who is on the front lines of a social media campaign that claims hundreds of supporters, has asked Ivins City Council to consider an ordinance that would ban helicopter landings within city limits, except for those involving rescues and emergency transports. The issue is on the council’s agenda for its Thursday meeting.
The campaign originally targeted the Sentierre resort, but has morphed into a two-pronged attack, with Tuacahn Center for the Arts becoming a second front.
“Sentierre is planning on using helicopters to transport residents & customers to/from Las Vegas as well as provide sightseeing tours to locations such as Lake Powell,” according to an email summarizing the issue sent last month to St. George News by Cj Unzen. “The helicopter flight path would be in the Padre Canyon/Snow Canyon State Park/Red Hills Wilderness corridors plus the surrounding neighborhoods.”
Although the campaign cites concerns over noise, environmental impact, property values and such, the key issue is whether the city already has an ordinance in place prohibiting nonemergency helicopter landings and, if so, whether Tuacahn’s dozen or so landings each year are a grandfathered use.
“My understanding of our zoning code is that helicopter landings are not permitted in Ivins,” Scott said in an email interview with St. George News. “If the city is aware that anyone is landing them, the city has a duty to enforce the zoning codes and terminate those landings – at least until the city changes its zoning code to permit such landings – which would require an open, transparent process starting with the Planning Commission and public hearings.
“Close to 600 people, mostly Ivins residents, have expressed their opposition to helicopter landings – that seems to deserve an open public process with the public invited to be heard.”
Scott is a member of the city’s planning commission who said he is involved in the helicopter issue as a private citizen and would recuse himself if the matter eventually makes its way to the commission.
Last week, Tuacahn CEO Kevin M. Smith sent a letter to the city addressing the issue of helicopter landings.
Although the number of landings has been few (perhaps a dozen per year), it is important to our enterprise that helicopters have the ability to land at our venue. Since 1996, we have had dignitaries, government officials, producers, directors, performers, media outlets, high-profile, security-risk individuals, and other influential business and civic leaders land directly at Tuacahn; often by their own requirements. We are happy to say that as of today we have never received a complaint from the community about these landings, of which we are grateful.
As we continue to see a need to allow the infrequent landing of helicopters at Tuacahn, it is our commitment to ensure these landings operate at the lowest impact to the environment as possible.
Asked about Tuacahn’s apparent exemption, Scott responded, “I asked the city manager about this and he said that the zoning code does not permit helicopter landings. Nowhere along the way did he tell me Tuacahn was grandfathered in.
“Maybe they are – but it is frustrating that it seems so much is being done behind closed doors and the public is not being told the whole story. And if they are grandfathered in, I would think it wise for the city to clarify that in the zoning code. And it would be wise to state some requirements for location, etc., for safety concerns.”
In regard to Sentierre, Jessica Mousley, the resort’s vice president of operations, said the resort wants to be a good neighbor to the residents of the city.
“Sentierre Padre Canyon has been working hard for the past three years to design, develop and construct a meaningful resort in Ivins,” she said in an email interview with St. George News. “We are residents and neighbors of the resort and have a vested interest in our community and the continuing special quality of our surroundings.”
Mousley also forwarded an public statement from Sentierre founder Stan Castleton that was sent to city officials earlier this month.
“Sentierre had an agreement to work with Tuacahn some years ago to explore the concept of helping Tuacahn to create a safe helicopter landing zone in the existing access to Padre Canyon. However, Sentierre no longer has plans to provide funding for any such improvements related to an FAA approved, or unapproved, landing pad on Padre Canyon Resort or Tuacahn property.”
Although the statement may appear to put to rest the issue of landings for the resort, Scott said he’s not so sure.
“The news release is awfully vague – Sentierre is only saying they don’t intend to provide funding to build a landing area. They don’t go so far as to say that they understand the community’s concern and that they will not land helicopters.”
Scott, along with a group of more than 30 supporters, attended an Ivins City Council meeting in November. He was the only one to speak, asking council to place on the agenda his proposal for an ordinance prohibiting nonemergency helicopter landings and calling for “significant financial penalties for violations.”
Council agreed then to agendize the matter for a future meeting, which is now set for Thursday; the meeting begins at 5:30 p.m at Ivins City Hall. The issue is listed as a “discussion and potential action” item and will include the statements from Tuacahn and Sentierre, as well as a position paper and letters to the city from Patty Dupree and Scott.
One of those letters states that an unnamed city official characterized citizens’ comments submitted on the issue as “uneducated, or misinformed or something to that effect.” The letter also states that someone with the city had expressed support for “Sentierre’s plan to land helicopters, indicating that Sentierre was promoting this service to some very important people from out-of-state. But wait. Aren’t the residents of Ivins the most important people for the city to pay attention to?”
The letter acknowledges some residents may be confused about the city’s planning, zoning and land use processes, but responded by saying:
The citizen comments were not uneducated or misinformed about the most important thing: Our residents vision of what Ivins means to them, why they live here, what they value, and what they want to preserve and protect. Their comments speak to all the reasons why Ivins is a unique and wonderful community and clearly echo the vision in the city’s General Plan. That’s the opposite of uneducated or misinformed.
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