Kemper Development places helistop request on hold

The Kemper Development helistop sits atop the Bank of America building in downtown Bellevue. - File Photo
The Kemper Development helistop sits atop the Bank of America building in downtown Bellevue.
— image credit: File Photo

Kemper Development Company has opted to place its request to use single-engine helicopters at its downtown Bellevue landing pad on hold to address safety concerns brought forth by the city following last month's fatal crash in Seattle.

A letter submitted by KDC's legal counsel to the city land use director on April 4 states this was one of two options placed on the table by city legal planner Catherine Drews for addressing concerns about the safety of single-engine helicopters like the the one that crashed in Seattle during takeoff from the KOMO TV Heliport on March 18.

Kemper was advised to either withdraw its application to modify its 2011 conditional use permit, which only allows twin-engine choppers, or place its request on hold until an investigation into the Seattle crash is concluded by the National Transportation Safety Board.

The helistop was constructed in 1988 and was granted temporary permits for limited landings at that time. Kemper applied for permitting in 2009, which prompted two years of study, multiple public hearings, hearing examiner appeals and decisions before the council approved a conditional use permit in May 2011. That decision was challenged in King County Superior Court and upheld by a judge in November of that year.

Kemper will be expected to provide the city with information supporting the safety of single-engine turbine helicopters from the Federal Aviation Administration, NTSB, state or other federal agencies and nongovernment research organizations.

According to the city's weekly permit bulletin, Bellevue staff believe safety information from the NTSB's investigation into the March 18 crash will be relevant to its review of the KDC request.

The letter submitted by KDC's legal counsel comes one day after comments on behalf of local philanthropist Ina Tateuchi opposing the CUP modification were submitted to the city.

Tateuchi, who opposed the original CUP and was part of a number of petitioners who appealed the council's decision in 2011, reiterated arguments that expert testimony at that time was that a single-engine helicopter would have no way of preventing a serious accident should it stall, unlike a twin-engine chopper.

"Therefore, as noted previously, Mrs. Tateuchi reserves all rights should the City persist in its current unlawful course," her comments state.

She states her strong opposition to eliminating conditions recommended by the city hearing examiner at the time and imposed by the City Council. Prior to KDC putting its request on hold, the modification decision would have been made by the land use director through a code interpretation.

"The staff's willingness to entertain the condition and expedite it as a staff amendment is equally disappointing to a public counting on City regulators for protection from harm," Tateuchi states in her comments.

She also called for revoking the current CUP and requiring Kemper apply for another, asserting KDC notified the city of its intent to request a modification as early as February 2012 — mere months after the superior court decision — and the city attempted to prevent that information from reaching the public.

"Since then evidence has come to light that KDC, with staff acquiescence, gamed the system by accepting and defending the CUP based on the twin engine condition even when they knew that they would be seeking its deletion," Tateuchi states in her comments.


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