IVINS — Ivins City Hall was hardly big enough to contain everyone who came to the City Council meeting Thursday to support an effort to stop helicopters from landing in the city.
About 80 people came to the meeting, many of whom stood shoulder to shoulder in the back and even on chairs in the foyer to catch a view of the meeting. They came to respectfully oppose nonemergency helicopter landings in Ivins because of the disruption to the community and surrounding environment.
In addition to those who attended, Mayor Chris Hart said he had received nearly 500 emails from people who did not approve of the landings.
“It’s bigger than just the noise that helicopters cause,” said Mike Scott, a leading member of the effort to stop the landings. “Our vision for the city is that it’s a serene and peaceful environment. You go hiking up in Padre Canyon and a helicopter comes roaring in — you want to be looking at nature, not machines flying all over.”
The two main sources of helicopter landings in Ivins have been Tuacahn Center for the Arts and Sentierre resort.
A city zoning ordinance that became effective in 2005 prevents helicopters from landing in the city. However, because Tuacahn has been flying special guests to its premises on helicopters since it opened in 1995, it can continue to do so, said Dale Coulam, Ivins city manager and city attorney.
“It is my opinion that from 2005 to the present and into the future, Tuacahn has what is called a legal nonconforming use, or in layman’s terms, a grandfathered use,” Coulam said.
However, Sentierre will not be allowed to fly helicopters to its property or use Tuacahn’s property for landing helicopters because that would increase the amount of helicopters landing at Tuacahn.
City Council members agreed with Coulam’s legal opinion. The only exception would be for emergency, medical or search and rescue helicopters.
Council also agreed that if a company or organization wants to fly helicopters in and out of Ivins, it would have to submit an application to the city and pay for an environmental study to determine the effect of the flights.
City Council will not be pursuing a further ordinance on helicopter use in the city.
“Were someone to approach the city to have the ordinance changed, we would no doubt require that they provide evidence that they would not impact the city negatively it we were to allow that,” Hart said.
Scott said the council’s discussion was overall disappointing and not productive.
“We’re really looking for the city to be bold, to be leaders and to take the position that we have that we want to prohibit helicopter landings in the city,” Scott said.
If City Council members wanted to really make a difference, Scott said, they would take action to make sure no helicopters were flown around the city except the occasional one to and from Tuacahn.
He added that council should have also pushed for specific rules for how Tuacahn can fly its helicopters to keep them accountable.
“If Tuacahn is allowed in, we need to define the flight path they are allowed to take,” Scott said.
When crossing sensitive lands like Snow Canyon State Park, Scott said, there are rules that state the helicopters must be 2,000 feet above ground level.
“The BLM (Bureau of Land Management) and FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) don’t enforce these rules,” Scott said. “The city of Ivins could enforce these rules. We’re missing a huge opportunity to make sure Tuacahn is doing things the right way.”
Councilwoman Jenny Johnson raised the issue of helicopters used occasionally for training with the fire department and military helicopters that sometimes visit the elementary school in Ivins for educational purposes for the children.
“I do feel bad that we may no longer have training, we may no longer have visits from military helicopters to the elementary school,” Johnson said. “That’s what makes me sad.”
Helicopters landing in Ivins for the public benefit like education for elementary school children should be allowed, Scott said, but the ordinance should be fixed and amended to include those exceptions and stricter rules for helicopters at Tuacahn.
“If the City Council isn’t going to budge, I’m not sure yet what the next step is,” Scott said. “I’m stopping the effort (against helicopter landings) right now until 5 a.m. tomorrow morning. But then I’m back at it. This is just the beginning for me.”
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