Despite misgivings about noise and safety issues, the Bellevue City Council voted unanimously to approve downtown developer Kemper Freeman's plan to land helicopters on a high-rise office building up to five times a week.
Despite misgivings about noise and safety issues, the Bellevue City Council voted unanimously on Monday to approve downtown developer Kemper Freeman’s plan to land helicopters on a high-rise office building up to five times a week.
The preliminary action — expected to be finalized next week — ends a more than two-year process in which Kemper Development sought approval for regular use of the “helistop” it built atop the 19-story Bank of America Building at Bellevue Place in 1988.
The council asked staff to draft language requiring close review of flights to insure they don’t violate the city’s noise ordinance or stray too frequently over residential parts of the downtown area. “I believe it is fair to hold the applicant responsible for strictly adhering to the conditions imposed by the hearing examiner,” said Councilman Grant Degginger, who proposed beefed-up reviews.
Helicopter flights — allowed only on weekdays and Saturdays — would follow Northeast Eighth Avenue between Interstate 405 and Bellevue Place at Eighth and Bellevue Way Northeast. Council members said they understood pilots must be given some leeway to deviate from the route for safety reasons.
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Councilman John Chelminiak called the city’s code governing helipads “woefully inadequate. If you are concerned about safety, the safest thing you can do with a helicopter is not land it on a tall building in a downtown area,” he said.
Several members said they were unhappy the city’s noise ordinance doesn’t regulate helicopters while they are in the air. Councilwoman Claudia Balducci said she plans to propose a moratorium on new helipads “until we can revise our code.”
Since Kemper Development applied in 2008 for a permit for regular helicopter flights, Hearing Examiner Christopher Mathews twice approved the company’s application and the City Council twice remanded it for study.
Su Development, philanthropist Ina Goodwin Tateuchi and others appealed the examiner’s decisions to the council. The Tateuchi Foundation, created by Ina and her late husband Atsuhiko, is the largest donor to Tateuchi Center, a planned 2,000-seat concert hall on property donated by Freeman on the same block where helicopters would land.
The Federal Aviation Administration had no objections to the helistop, and FAA investigator Roy Hardie said the prescribed flight path along Eighth Street met industry standards for safety as long as pilots didn’t fly toward Kemper Freeman’s Lincoln Square office tower, just south of Bellevue Place, the hearing examiner wrote.
Gordon Jones, an expert witness for appellants, said a strong south wind could force pilots to fly 500 to 1,000 feet north of Eighth Street.
Keith Ervin: 206-464-2105 or firstname.lastname@example.org