Minnesota’s lake country is already teeming with speedboats, Jet Skis, float planes and motorized parachutes.
So why not helicopters?
On East Gull Lake, an affluent Brainerd-area enclave about 135 miles northwest of the Twin Cities, local officials are considering a proposal to allow residents to build private helicopter pads on their property.
Although the proposal would allow anyone to build a helipad, the issue arose after Twin Cities businessman Doug Schieffer bought a property on the lake and submitted building plans that included a private pad for his Bell 206L4, a six-passenger craft that he hopes to fly to his lake home.
City officials realized that their zoning ordinance had no provision for private helipads, so they began drafting one. When word got out, some local residents mobilized opposition to the proposal.
Opponents have cited noise, safety and environmental concerns, but Schieffer said their worries are unfounded. The lake already hosts a wide variety of motorized craft, he said, including a seaplane base at nearby Steamboat Bay and an airstrip at Madden’s Resort.
“I never thought people would be concerned for safety when they basically bought homes right in the middle of two airports,” he said.
Schieffer said private helipads conforming to federal rules have a perfect safety record, according to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), while Jet Skis “have a horrible safety record. And I’m not going around starting a petition to get rid of Jet Skis.”
The board of the Gull Chain of Lakes Association has opposed the proposal as written, but would reconsider if helipads were required to be at least 1,000 feet from the lakeshore, said Uldis Birznieks, the group’s chairman.
Jay Gudajtes, a farmer from Minto, N.D., owns the home next to where Schieffer hopes to put his helipad. The plans would have Schieffer’s helicopter landing dangerously close to his house, Gudajtes said.
“I’m not looking forward to a helicopter landing less than 100 feet from my house, and my vehicles getting sandblasted, and maybe kids and dogs getting swept off the dock,” Gudajtes said.
“As far as I’m concerned, I don’t think my family is safe with a helicopter, and he thinks his family is safe in one. So there you are.”
Last week, the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission held a hearing on the proposal, which would allow private helipads if the operators met a set of requirements regulating safety, noise and flight conditions. After hearing testimony, the commission tabled the issue until later this month.
If the commission adopts the proposal, it would go to the City Council, where it would require a “yes” vote from four of the five council members to pass.
“We worked with the city to create restrictions that are far above FAA guidelines,” Schieffer said. “I’ve done everything I can to please the neighbors.”
Matthew Loven, a Minneapolis attorney representing opponents of the plan, said residents are concerned about setting a precedent that could spread.
The Gull Lake area, he said, “is very affluent. You get one guy with a helicopter, there are certainly others who have the means. So then does it become a ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ thing?”
Opponents of the helipad proposal are clinging to an outdated notion of Minnesota lake living, said Kyle Hart, a Minneapolis attorney representing Schieffer.
“It’s not the Boundary Waters,” Hart said. “This is not a mythical, utopian Shangri-La. It’s a heavily used recreational lake. Adding helicopters to the mix adds virtually nothing.”