City sees no upside for issuing Wharf helicopter tour permit for Wharf

City sees no upside for issuing Wharf helicopter tour permit for Wharf
By John Mullen
Citing concerns about creating noise in city neighborhoods and beachfront condos as well, the Orange Beach City Council voted down a change in The Wharf’s planned unit development to allow for a helicopter tour service to operate there.
There is a helipad on the southeast corner of The Wharf property near the Orange Beach Event Center that is used about twice a year by the nonprofit veterans’ group Friends of Army Aviation to offer flights to the public on a vintage Huey helicopter. Flights were approved for the helipad by Oasis Services in 2013.
“I just don’t see how I would support it because I don’t see an upside for our residents,” Mayor Tony Kennon said. “I see an upside for The Wharf and we’d do everything to support that but I don’t see what’s best for our residents here. We would be doing what’s best for you not them. It’s been very vocal, very plain to us. I just have a problem with it. I see no upside.”
Kennon also raised concerns about flying over the campground at Gulf State Park and asked if officials there had been consulted about the proposed flight patterns.
Heliwave Helicopter tours proposed three flight plans of eight, 15 and 20 miles using two aircraft, one each Robinson 44 and Robinson 66. Each helicopter can carry four passengers including the pilot and during peak times make as many as 25 flights per day. The company also wanted to put up a portable building and construct a patio on the site as well.
Community Development Director Kit Alexander who said her office fields most of the noise complaints about aircraft noise over Orange Beach and many areas of town are affected.
“People that come down here and rent a condo – and there are people that are permanent residents in condos, we have quite a few on the beach – they respond the same way that people in houses respond,” Alexander said. “In my opinion, it would be very desirable to not have a helicopter crossing anywhere near any residential structure be it single family, duplex, multi-family, even hotels. They follow the same route so whatever you get you’re stuck and you’re going to listen to it all day long every day, seven days a week. I’m worried we’re going to have a problem.”
Brett Whitehead lives at the back of Cypress Village directly east of The Wharf property says there’s plenty of other times where noise comes from the complex but those are usually short-lived.
“We tolerate the concerts, they’re a lot of fun,” Whitehead said. “The fireworks are temporary. We can even tolerate the convention of idiots in the trucks because all of those are temporary. We want to be good neighbors to the businesses because they bring people in and provide tax revenue. But it’s a pretty big inconvenience to have a helicopter flying over the roof all day.”
The council voted to suspend the rules to consider the ordinance change immediately and voted against it in a unanimous vote by councilmembers Jeff Silvers, Jerry Johnson, Annette Mitchell and Kennon. Councilman Jeff Boyd was out of town and unable to attend.
During the regular session, the council voted to:
• Buy three vehicles for the Public Works Department for $111,347, a crew cap pick up, an extended cab pickup and a crew cab pick up with a dump bed.
• To fund $3,000 to the Coastal Alabama Business Chamber for its annual electronic recycling and paper shred event on Jan. 8 at the Gulf State Park beach pavilion from 8 a.m.-noon.
• Buy two commercial John Deere mowers with 72-inch decks for the street department for $62,068.
• Buy a Kubota mini excavator for the Coastal Resources Department for $62,688 from Baldwin Tractor and Equipment.
• Buy a 72-inch Kubota mower with a cab from for the Coastal Resources Department for $26,477 from Baldwin Tractor and Equipment.
• Buy an M5-111 Kubota tractor for the Coastal Resources Department for $58,943.
Council also discussed:
• A resolution awarding the bid for the construction of Fire Station No. 5.
• A resolution reappointing Frederick Gatch and appointing Beth West to the Library Board and correcting a scrivener’s error in the term end dates stated for Joni Blalock and Sharon Ramirez.
• Setting a public hearing for Zeke’s Landing Marina’s proposed parking addition. The suggested date was Feb. 2.
• Setting a public hearing for the Cactus Cantina planned unit development on Orange Beach Boulevard north of Dollar General. The suggested date was Feb. 2.
• Setting a public hearing and first reading for rezoning of a lot in Bear Point for Jan. 18. The lot is at the corner of Allison Street and Low Drive.

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