Battle continues over downtown helicopter landing space in Bellevue

The council hearing focused on the appeal of a permit for the downtown helistop.

The Bellevue City Council recently held a limited public hearing regarding the appeal of a hearing examiner decision defending Kemper Development Company’s helistop that sits on top of Bellevue Place.

The two people who have long been at odds over the helistop — philanthropist Ina Tateuchi and developer Kemper Freeman Jr. — have also both been the driving force behind the longtime effort to bring a 2,000-seat performing arts center to downtown Bellevue. Tateuchi’s foundation paid $25 million for the naming rights of the center, while Kemper has donated millions of dollars to boost the facility, as well as the land where the proposed center would be built.

The council originally approved the helistop’s conditional use permit (CUP) in 2009. It has since been the subject of a years-long fight over its placement on the building. The latest action taken in the case was an April 5 hearing examiner decision denying the request to have the CUP revoked. The helistop currently sits on top of the Bellevue Place building, at 10500 NE 8th St., and has had only one recorded use in its history, one helicopter landing during 2015.

In February 2016, Ina Tateuchi submitted the application to revoke the CUP from Kemper Development Company (KDC), which was denied in 2017. That denial was appealed by Tateuchi, and then went to the hearing examiner in March 2018, before the second denial in April.

Tateuchi has appealed the hearing examiner’s April decision to the Bellevue City Council, which held their public hearing on the topic at their June 18 meeting.

The Bellevue Council heard arguments from Tateuchi, represented by Peter Eglick of Eglick and Whited, and KDC, represented by Alison Moss of Shwabe, Williamson and Wyatt. The city’s assistant city attorney Matt McFarland also spoke, representation the city’s Development Services Department and defending the hearing examiner’s decision.

In the application of revocation, Tateuchi alleges two main points. That the use granted by the CUP has been abandoned and that the CUP was obtained by material misrepresentation of fact.

Because the helistop has not been used since 2015, Eglick argued, the use had been abandoned for well over a year. Eglick said the that the city’s revocation provision states that if there hasn’t been use in one year then it is abandoned.

On misrepresentation, Eglick explained that in the original approval of the CUP for the helistop, a limitation for its use was applied for out of safety concerns. The helistop was limited to only be used by twin-engine helicopters citing safety reasons. Eglick argued that KDC initially told the council that twin-engine safety condition was a positive reason they should approve the use permit.

After the CUP was granted, KDC submitted an application to remove the twin-engine condition. The proposal was eventually withdrawn, but the helistop has still almost never been used. Based on emails obtained in discovery, Eglick argued that KDC supported the twin-engine condition to get the CUP approved but also had planned to apply for its removal once they had the permit.

McFarland, echoing the same conclusion that the hearing examiner cited in his decision, explained that the code provisions do not define abandonment as the lack of takeoffs and landings, and that the requirements for revocation are not satisfied because KDC has performed consistent maintenance on the helistop.

McFarland argued that the helsitop has had continual maintenance every year and is operational, even during times when there are no takeoffs or landings. KDC pointed to evidence that they received permits to keep the helistop upgraded to current federal aviation administration design standards and city code requirements. McFarland also stated that KDC had filed monthly operation reports in the first year and biannual reports in the following years.

Moss, representing KDC, addressed misrepresentation claim. She explained that the original CUP was approved with the use of single-engine helicopters but after Tateuchi appealed the decision, the hearing examiner added the twin-engine condition. Moss said that the emails obtained through discovery show the attorney, consultants and KDC discussing the effect of the condition their permit and that they did not seek or ask for it as a form of misrepresentation of material fact.

The Bellevue City Council went into executive session to discuss the information they heard at the hearing, but did not make a decision that night. The council will make their determination on the case at a later date. The full video recording of the hearing, as well as accompanying documents, can be found through the council calender available on the city’s website.