A Palmaz heliport sequel looks like it’s on the way following recent marathon hearings before the Napa County Planning Commission.
The Planning Commission on Sept. 6 rejected the Palmaz request for a private-use heliport on Mount George by a 4-1 vote. Proponents are turning to the Napa County Board of Supervisors.
Last week, proponents under the name Amalia Palmaz Living Trust filed a notice of intent to appeal the Planning Commission decision to the Board. That started a period of 10 business days to file an appeals packet.
“We believe in the process,” Christian Palmaz said on Thursday. “All we can do is try. If it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out. If it works out, it’s great. We want a fair bite at the apple.”
Whether this sequel will have new twists or sound much like the original remains to be seen. Palmaz said he wants to work with opponents to further refine the heliport proposal.
“We’ll talk to anybody,” Palmaz said. “Anybody who wants to help improve the project.”
Residents by the dozens turned out at three Planning Commission meetings totaling about 15 hours to oppose the heliport. Many wore shirts saying “Heli-NO.” That raises the question of whether the middle ground Palmaz says he’s searching for actually exists.
Robert Pursell, a Palmaz neighbor and critic of the heliport proposal, doubts a compromise is possible given the nature of the issue.
“It’s not like a winery project where you can make compromises and mitigations to alleviate concerns,” Pursell said on Thursday. “This is a fundamental objection to private heliports.”
Palmaz is a self-described aviation enthusiast who wants to fly his twin-engine Bell 429 Global Ranger to and from the family home. He presently uses Napa County Airport, which is about 10 miles away by road.
Opponents object to potential noise and the possibility of a helicopter accident. Some say granting Palmaz a private heliport would open the floodgates to more heliports and helicopters that they think would degrade the rural county’s bucolic atmosphere.
An environmental impact report done for the county concluded a Palmaz heliport would have no significant impacts, including noise. Palmaz agreed to such restrictions as a no-fly zone over a nearby rural neighborhood. County staff recommended approving the Mount George site.
But some Planning Commissioners doubted the county could enforce the proposed flight restrictions. Several commissioners cited testimony by residents as helping to shape their decisions.
Palmaz said Thursday that county zoning allows private use heliports in any zoning district, including the agricultural watershed zoning of Mount George, with a use permit. County supervisors in 2004 banned having helicopters take visitors to wineries, but retained the personal use component.
“It’s not like we’re coming in and asking for some kind of stretched interpretation of this code,” Palmaz said.
Past helicopter controversies were caused by the casual use of aircraft flying into Napa Valley and making unsanctioned landings, Palmaz said. These cases didn’t involve doing noise studies and environmental impact studies, as was done for his project.
“We’re receiving the emotional brunt of all those problems,” Palmaz said.
Palmaz said he understands some people really don’t want the heliport. He respects their ability to voice their opinion. But you don’t want to vilify the applicant who is applying for what the law allows, he added.
Pursell and other opponents have a different viewpoint on how a heliport would affect their rural community.
“The people have spoken,” Pursell said. “They don’t want a heliport in their neighborhood. He should just drive to the airport.”
Some commissioners also noted the airport isn’t a far drive for Palmaz, who said he doesn’t see that as being a criteria in county code for judging his project.
“That’s been something a lot of people say,” Palmaz said. “That’s really opinion based...That’s certainly not what I hope they based their decision on.”
Also in play is a Sept. 6 finding by the county Airport Land Use Commission that the proposed heliport is incompatible with the county’s Airport Land Use Compatibility Plan. The commission is composed of the five Planning Commissioners, plus two pilots.
The Board of Supervisors can override an Airport Land Use Commission recommendation.