Despite a relatively light agenda this month, there were a few fireworks Tuesday when the Oneida County Board of Supervisors met at the Oneida County Courthouse.
Following a public hearing on April 6, the county's planning and development committee voted to approve a resolution to allow administrative and conditional uses in Business B-1 and Business B-2 to also be used in Multiple Family Residential Areas.
That change in the ordinance also included language allowing a helipad to be built for health care facilities in those areas.
Supervisor Jack Sorensen wanted to make amendments to that resolution to keep helipads a quarter-mile from single-family residential areas. The amendment was voted down by a 3-2 vote at the committee level, but Sorensen brought two amendments to Tuesday's county board meeting.
Sorensen referenced citizen displeasure when the helipad at Howard Young Medical Clinic in Woodruff was moved from one side of the building to the other.
"People who purchase homes in single-family residential, even if they are well aware of it and I assume they are well aware of the fact there are adjoining business districts and they're aware of what can be into them, I don't think a heliport or a helipad are part of what they think is going to happen to them," Sorenson said. "Simple business districts do not create the noise factor that a heliport would. It's simply asking for a simple buffer between wherever single-family residential is currently and any future placement of a heliport or a helipad."
Sorensen also spelled out his reasoning for adding a buffer, from the perspective of someone in the real estate business.
"As a real estate appraiser, and to those on the board that carry real estate licenses, people can be finicky," Sorensen said. "Some people can walk in and say that doesn't make any difference at all, but other people may walk in and say 'Oh, we don't want to be near something like that.' Those negative things that people see, whether they are perceived or very, very real, oppose to the marketability of homes and the marketability and the amount of time that a home sits on the market because of something that is negative in the neighborhood affects the value...I feel it's important to protect those areas that are already existing - single-family residential - from something that would be negative to the marketability of homes."
When Sorensen finished, corporation counsel Brian Desmond reminded the board that if the amendment passed it would have to go back to a public hearing.
When chairman Dave Hintz opened the floor for comments from supervisors and for the public in attendance, supervisor Alan VanRaalte countered.
"It would seem to me, that if someone was living close to a hospital, they are already hearing sirens if the hospital has an emergency room," VanRaalte said. "I don't know whether a helicopter is making all that much more noise - when it's being used - than sirens. I'm not sure that it's necessary to pass this amendment."
Representatives from Howard Young and Marshfield Clinic were in attendance.
Naturally, Marshfield Clinic opposed the amendment because of a plan to have a helipad for its proposed new hospital and argued that any potential noise problems can be addressed during the public hearing with a conditional use permit (CUP).
Supervisor Billy Fried, who serves as the vice chairman on the Planning and Development Committee, addressed potential noise complaints.
"Some of the discussions about some of the specifics have been done at the committee," Fried said. "When it does come to safety, noise and other things - anytime a CUP comes before the committee - we go over those things and try to address them. So, to send the committee to have discussions with this we've had already, I think, would be - the committee predominantly supports moving what [zoning director] Karl [Jennrich] has originally brought here to you."
Sorensen quickly reminded Fried the committee did not predominantly support it, as the motion originally failed 3-2.
Supervisor Carol Pederson said she could see both sides of the argument.
That prompted Ted Cushing to make a statement on the matter.
"It isn't just heliports or helipads or whatever you want to call them," Cushing said. "We have issues with planning and zoning when a certain manufacturing business wants to locate and neighbors come and say, 'How can you let a steel stamping facility come and be built in my backyard? Why do I have to look at boat storage?' Well, you happen to own property in single-family but butting up to you is zoned business. We are also an aging county, a rapidly aging county, and the better the health care services are - because I'm one of those rapidly aging people and that's the way I want it."
Other supervisors shared Cushing's sentiments, but Howard Young representative Tim Feeley pointed out that the current residents purchased homes without knowing a hospital would be built next door as the ordinance is just being changed now to allow it.
In the end, the board voted 14-4 - three supervisors were absent - to reject the proposed amendment.
Second proposed amendment
Sorensen then proceeded to make his case for his second proposed amendment.
This time, Sorensen proposed that a heliport must be approved by the Federal Aviation Administration before construction begins.
Jennrich stated that when Howard Young received its CUP, the FAA approved it during the process.
"Part of our approval process, for example, with cellular towers - which are now mobile communication towers - we automatically require that they provide us with FAA approval because of the height," Jennrich said. "I believe that helicopters are becoming part of the health care industry. This (is) intended (for) an existing health care facility that didn't have a heliport. As my committee is aware of, when we relocated the heliport for Howard Young Medical Clinic, the Planning and Development Committee went through great lengths and many meetings to appease or address some of the concerns of those neighbors."
Jennrich also stated that Howard Young has done things to minimize noise and Oneida County has not received complaints since its construction.
Desmond was unable to provide any significant legal advice on this matter.
"Mr. Chairman, I have not done the research, as far as Mr. Feeley indicating whether heliport is a term of art and what FAA regulations are when a heliport is associated with a health care facility," Desmond said. "I just don't know the answer to that offhand."
Desmond believed Sorensen's amendment to be unnecessary because of the process for obtaining a CUP and because the proposed language already states heliports are to be limited to health care facilities in those districts.
"It seems redundant, his amendment," Desmond said. "If those are already required, as Mr. Feeley indicated, those requirements are already there if you have a heliport as part of a health care facility. He can speak more on that. He probably knows more than me about that."
Feeley then came to the podium to address the committee on what Howard Young had to do to construct and operate a heliport.
In particular, he detailed what helicopter use was like before the FAA certification, which included landing in parking lots if necessary.
"Currently the heliport at Howard Young is FAA certified, which means there are restrictions with respect to lighting, fencing, flight paths have to be approved and so I think simply referring to a different part of your ordinance with respect to conditional uses that it has to comply with state and federal law, really doesn't take into account that there are different levels of how heliports are regulated under federal state law," Feeley said. "So if the intent is to have it protected, fenced, lighted, similar to what you see at Howard Young, I think the language would be FAA certified."
After the explanation, Desmond said he no longer believed Sorensen's amendment to be redundant.
Sorensen felt that Feeley's explanation strengthened his argument based on safety.
"The information that we just received, seems to me that by requiring that a new landing pad be certified by the FAA is a rather simple requirement on our part for safety," Sorensen said. "You heard him. Helicopters landing in parking lots on occasions and again, with another facility within close proximity to what may be proposed as a new facility, I think we ought to take that extra step. Some may argue redundancy, I argue safety."
In the end, after a 12-6 vote, the board decided that any concerns would be handled through the CUP process.
The original resolution presented was passed by a majority vote.
A public hearing on Marshfield Clinic's CUP request is set for April 27.
Nick Sabato may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @SabatoNick.
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