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Helicopter landings a nuisance in Dundee

Wine tours that touch down in central city create annoyance for neighbors, council takes action

Helicopters can no longer land inside the Dundee city limits unless they are touching down at an official heliport, the City Council voted this month, but there could be exceptions in certain cases.

“We had that activity taking place early in the year and had a number of complaints that came forward,” City Administrator Rob Daykin said last week.

The complaints stemmed primarily from Precision Helicopters’ wine tour service, which utilizes a space off Seventh Street to occasionally land its helicopters.

With the adoption of the ordinance, it is officially a “nuisance” if a helicopter lands inside the city, other than at a facility that’s registered with the Oregon Department of Aviation.

“This is not banning flying over Dundee, just landing in city limits without a registered heliport,” Daykin clarified.

Testimony in favor of the proposed nuisance ordinance came from a nearby homeowner who was perturbed by the helicopter noise over her house, as well as Dick Ponzi, owner of the Dundee Bistro restaurant that neighbors the landing area for the wine tours. The helicopter landings are reportedly impacting the restaurant’s outdoor seating area through the dust and debris that is kicked up and blown through the air, as well as just the noise of a helicopter landing near the diners.

He noted other businesses and pedestrians in the area are affected as well.

David Rath of Precision Helicopters also gave testimony, explaining to the council that he’s conducted wine tours in the area since 2003. He said the company has received four complaints about the helicopters, and said the company is not opposed to using a different landing site, although he also proposed the city create a process to allow helicopter landings on an infrequent basis or for special occasions.

In the end the council voted for the nuisance ordinance, but also directed the planning commission to look into some possibilities for changing the city development code, particularly how helicopter landings could be allowed on a permit basis without an official heliport, in part based on concerns expressed by Precision Helicopters representatives.

At its July 19 meeting the council planned to consider amending the ordinance, to include a “limited duration” variance process to allow helicopter landings “for a specific event or activity if the city council determines that not granting the variance would produce hardship without equal or greater benefit to the public.”

Applications would go before the council for approval.

The amendments under consideration also clarified that the ban applied to “manned” aircraft, meaning drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles would still be allowed to land in the city.