Christian Palmaz

Christian Palmaz prepares to take children for a helicopter ride over Napa in May 2014 for the Young Eagles Day program.

Palmaz is asking Napa County for permission to build a helipad at Palmaz Vineyards a few miles east of the city of Napa for private use.

Napa County planning staff recommends the controversial Palmaz heliport be built farther away from an adjacent rural-residential neighborhood than originally proposed.

Meanwhile, people by the dozens have written to the county objecting to the whole idea of a heliport, period. Concerns range from helicopter noise to the prospect of more Napa Valley movers-and-shakers being emboldened to seek their own heliports.

The Napa County Planning Commission must sift through the competing claims. It will discuss the Palmaz heliport when it meets at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the county administration center, 1195 Third St. in Napa.

County staff recommends the commission accept public comments and then delay making a decision until March 22. If commissioners choose this course, they could still say on Wednesday which way they are leaning.

Christian Palmaz operates his helicopter out of the Napa County Airport. He wants to build a helipad and hangar at the family home near the Palmaz Vineyards winery, 4031 Hagen Road, a few miles east of Napa.

He’s stressed that he won’t be flying customers to and from the winery.

“The proposed helipad is for private and personal use,” according to papers Palmaz filed with the county. “No commercial use will be permitted.”

County staff wants to move the proposed helipad farther away from the Olive Hill Lane neighborhood. They recommend it be built on Palmaz property located one mile northeast of the original site, on the slopes of Mount George.

Among the proposed conditions are establishing a no-fly zone for altitudes under 1,000 feet over the rural residential neighborhoods, restricting the number of flights per week and requiring Palmaz to use a low-noise helicopter.

Critics are worried that helicopter flight restrictions are beyond the county’s enforcement power. But a county report says Palmaz and subsequent owners of the helipad would have to submit to conditions that Palmaz embraces.

Meanwhile, residents have sent the county articles detailing various helicopter crashes. One resident sent in a Jan. 30, 2016 New York Times opinion piece entitled, “A Plague of Helicopters is Ruining New York” about helicopter noise and pollution.

The local group Napa Vision 2050 is against the proposed Palmaz helipad. On its website, it invites people to sign a petition opposing private heliports in Napa County and says Uber has tested a taxi helicopter business model for the rich.

“Ubercopters? Heli-no!” the website says.

The heart of Napa County’s recently released final environmental document on the proposed Palmaz heliport is what amounts to 370 pages of debate.

People submitted more than 100 comment letters to the county, most explaining why they don’t want helicopter landings and take-offs at the Palmaz property. They were unconvinced by an earlier draft county environmental impact report saying that noise and other perceived problems can be handled.

County consultant Ascent Environmental in the final document responded to the comments. Its conclusions remained unchanged: potential negative effects of the heliport can be rendered “less than significant after mitigation.”

It’s up to the Planning Commission whether to certify the environmental impact report needed for the project to go forward. Beyond that, the commission will decide whether to issue a use permit for the proposed heliport.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.