Residents nervous about helipad in neighborhood

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    By Lindsey Iorg

    An application permitting helicopters to operate in an Orem neighborhood has many citizens nervous that residential safety and peace may be comprised in order to further therapy for substance-abuse addicts.

    Losee Studio, a companion building to the Sundance-based Cirque Lodge, helps chemical dependent adults recover from addictions by incorporating environmental interaction into their treatment. Richard Losee, owner of the rehabilitation center, filed an application with the Orem City Council requesting permission to operate regular helicopter activity from the Orem studio.

    After postponing the helipad hearing from the May 11 City Council meeting, a final decision is scheduled for the June 22 meeting.

    Losee said allowing helicopters to operate from the Losee Studio in Orem will provide another way for patients to enjoy the environment.

    “The thoughts and ideas behind having a helicopter is simply to take it into another level of getting our people into the mountains, getting them into nature and seeing things that will hopefully allow them to reconnect with themselves and their personal higher power,” Losee said.

    The proposed helipad site, at 1240 E. and 800 North, is embedded among many residential homes, leaving some neighbors outraged over the disturbances the helicopters may potentially create.

    Mike Scalora, a resident who said he lives approximately 100 feet from the site, has spent many hours, along with other concerned residents, informing City Council members and residents of the negative impact helicopter activity may create.

    “My main concern is the noise,” Scalora said. “The sound of helicopters taking off and landing frequently during the day is undesirable in a residential area. It makes it sound like you”re living by an airport.”

    Scalora said he and three other concerned neighbors have spent 12 to 15 hours speaking to people and spreading flyers throughout the neighborhoods surrounding the site.

    “We”re asking the city that [Losee] fly his helicopter the same place everyone else flies their helicopter, which is the airport,” Scalora said. “We”re not asking him to not fly his helicopter. We”re just asking him to be a good neighbor.”

    Stanford Sainsbury, director of development services for Orem, said the proposed helipad site is similar to an airport where helicopters will be stored, maintained, fueled and operated.

    “It”s a permanent fixed location for helicopters to come and go,” Sainsbury said.

    Losee said the studio was purchased nine years ago with a conditional-use zoning ordinance, creating the idea that helicopters may potentially be operated on the site with the City Council”s permission.

    “It wasn”t me that put this listing in the zone, it was the city that put this as a conditional use many years ago,” Losee said. “It”s not something new or something we”re asking to be put in the zone, it”s something that was already in there.”

    For neighbors like Andrea Davis, traffic safety among children is a main concern with the operation of helicopters near her home. She cited a crosswalk that is located near the proposed helipad site.

    “I think there is a real liability for kids to get hit by cars,” she said. “Kids aren”t going to watch the road, because they”re going to watch the helicopter. And the cars aren”t going to watch the kids.”

    However, in a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration to the city, the FAA stated they had no objection to the proposed helipad. The FAA said researchers looked at airspace regarding safety and efficiency with respect to the security of residents and property.

    “They”ve looked at it from the standpoint of safety for persons and property on the ground,” Losee said regarding the letter.

    Additionally, Orem city officials hired a private engineering firm to conduct multiple studies of noise levels. Losee said the noise generated by his helicopter was substantially lower than the maximum noise levels the city put into the ordinance.

    Despite this research, some residents said they are still convinced the use of helicopters will negatively influence the neighborhood.

    Residents like Scalora and Davis said they are concerned their property values will drop as a result of increased noise and fear for lessened safety.

    Davis said a real estate appraiser in California cited that houses built next to a helipad potentially drop 20-30 percent in property value.

    “It”s a big investment to buy or build a home in this area, and this isn”t what we invested in,” Davis said.

    While some residents said they think investing in a home is also investing in their neighborhood, Losee said part of buying a home is researching the zoning ordinances and seeing what could potentially be put in the area.

    “This is something that isn”t new,” he said. “It”s something that was listed in the zone prior to when we purchased it.”

    Residents like Davis said they believe there are no justifications for helicopters to operate from a permanent residential location.

    “We have an airport in the community,” Davis said. “We”re not saying [Losee] can”t own a helicopter, but use it like everyone else and use the airport. [Losee] would like preferential treatment.”

    During his visits to other residents in the area, Scalora estimates that only 25 percent of the people they came across were informed about the application for the helipad permit. He has created a Web site, www.saveorem.org, as a place for residents to voice their concerns.

    “There are several dozen people who have e-mailed comments or left comments on the Web site,” Scalora said.

    Residents will have the opportunity to voice any concerns for or against the proposed site before the City Council makes a final decision on June 22.

    “I think we have a good city council and I think they”ll be fair and listen to all points whether it”s from me or anyone else,” Losee said.

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