No more helistops in Bellevue's immediate future
By NAT LEVY
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
June 1, 2011 · Updated 1:43 PM
Bellevue won't see new helicopter landing pads in the near future.
When the City Council last month allowed Kemper Development to operate a helistop on the top of the Bank of America building downtown, amid protests from a group of influential downtown residents, it became clear to council members that something needed to be changed.
The council on Tuesday authorized the staff to begin the process of a targeted code amendment to limit all helistop construction to only emergency uses while further analysis can be performed on helistops, and several other aspects of city zoning regulations. According to city documents, no applications for helistops have been submitted recently.
The more limited action was one of several possibilities, which included an option for a more stringent moratorium that would have required greater public process and increased pressure on staff.
The council also had the opportunity to allow code to remain unchanged, as very few of the buildings could even support a helistop.
"I don't think it's right to wait until someone comes in for pre-application, and then run and say 'moratorium, moratorium,'" said Council Member John Chelminiak.
Only two spots in town are authorized for helicopter landings, the Bank of America building and Overlake Hospital Medical Center. The ordinance allowing helicopter landings on buildings was created in 1989, and council members have wanted an overhaul since the early stages of Kemper Development's application process.
The Kemper application allows five landings-takeoffs per week on top of the 21-story Bank of America Building, located at 10500 N.E. Eighth St. A maximum of four landings will be allowed from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays, and one on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Flights will have to run through the Northeast Eighth Street corridor and freeways to minimize noise impacts to residents.
The major issue to several council members involved the noise factor. Chelminiak wanted to change the rules to have the city's noise ordinance apply to helicopters on departure and approach - currently, the rule only applies while the chopper is on the ground. As part of the discussion over helistops, the group wanted to begin a broader conflict about noise issues and zoning.
"While we might do this short-term fix (for helistops), I don't want this to drop off the list to be forgotten for three years," said Council Member Jennifer Robertson.
Some time in the next 60 days the council will hold an extensive discussion on the issues surrounding helistops, including the city's noise ordinance, studies on downtown livability and the council's role as a semi-judicial body during such a process. In the case of Kemper's application, the council's role was not to decide whether it was best for the city, but to rule on the legal merits of the project.Contact Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer Nat Levy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 425-453-4290.