News

May 16, 2001

New Castle County would regulate the location and, to some extent, the operation of helicopter landing pads under legislation soon to be introduced into County Council.

If approved, the new law would amend the Unified Development Code to specifically permit designated areas for the machines to land and take off as an accessory use on properties with other than a residential zoning classification. They could be situated at ground level or atop buildings.

The code presently is silent about the use of helicopters, but other jurisdictions have taken to regulating them as their numbers have proliferated, largely as a result of their use by major corporations.. The proposed New Castle County ordinance takes note of "a recent increase in the number of new helicopter landing facilities" and concludes that they raise noise-pollution and safety concerns, especially in residential areas.

No specific examples are cited, but a proposal by Astra Zeneca Plc. to eliminate a deed restriction prohibiting a helicopter pad in the Blue Ball Triangle, where it is building a headquarters and research laboratory expansion, drew considerable local opposition last year. That proposal was dropped as a tradeoff  to achieve quick county approval of the overall project, but company officials then noted that nothing would prevent having a pad somewhere on the other part of the Brandywine Hundred property. That lies next to the Rollins Building, where a rooftop pad has drawn community opposition for many years.

Second District Councilman Robert Weiner has agreed to sponsor the proposed new ordinance.

Before a helicopter pad could be constructed and operated, a property owner would have to demonstrate to the Department of Land Use that it meets technical requirements and obtain a permit. There is no provision, however, for public notification about or a public hearing on the application.

Medical and public-safety organizations would have to obtain a permit, but would be required to adhere to less stringent requirements.

In granting its endorsement of the proposed ordinance, the department said that a provision there be a 500-foot separation between a pad and the nearest residentially zoned property is in keeping with the apparent standard followed by other jurisdictions.

A 200-foot buffer would be required between the pad and an adjoining property zoned for commercial use. There would also be a requirement that a pad could not be located less than a half-mile from another pad.

The department also agreed to a noise limitation of 95.0 dB single-event exposure level, which the department also found to be in keeping with what is required elsewhere. The Federal Aviation Administration, it noted, does not regulate helicopter noise levels.

The county ordinance would further provide that no helicopter could pass lower than 300 feet above a residential area when approaching or leaving the pad. Such maneuvers would have to be carried out under visual, rather than instrument, flight rules.

No auxiliary buildings or support facilities, such as waiting rooms, could be included as part of the site, which would have to be fenced or protected by some kind of natural barrier.

There is a provision which states that a pad could only be used for business purposes and specifically forbids joyriding by corporate executives' families and friends -- although it is not stated how such a prohibition might be enforced.

Generally, however, the permit to operate a pad could be revoked upon a finding that it was not being operated in compliance with provisions in the application on which a permit is granted.

2001. All rights reserved.

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