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Austin Council Eyes F1 Helipad Code Changes After Neighborhood Outcry

Updated: Saturday, August 3 2013, 05:06 PM CDT

An outcry from the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association and other nearby residents has pushed the Austin City Council to consider limits on temporary civilian helipads.

At around 4 p.m. Thursday, the Aviation Department approved two temporary landing sites for Formula One weekend near Zilker Park, one on the roof of the Embassy Suites parking garage at 300 S. Congress, the other on the roof of an office building at 901 S. Mopac.

The city has allowed 66 flight operations on Sunday, with the helipads open from Friday, November 16, through Sunday, November 18 from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Jim Halbrook, a spokesman for the airport, says those flight numbers represent less than half of the original requested flights. Neighbors say they don’t like their neighborhood being used as an F1 shuttle site for helicopters, they never had a chance to weigh in, and they want to see restrictions.

"A helipad basically yards away from our residential neighborhood and the Barton Creek Greenbelt," says resident John Luther, who along with others worry about the impact of the dozens of flights.

"There's wildlife there, noise pollution is not good for them, it's not good for our residents," said Luther.

Luther says he only found out about the plan after talking to a neighbor.

"We were disappointed that we weren't involved in some of the initial planning."

Austin City Council wants to lay out rules for temporary helipads, a first in the code. The proposed ordinance would cap the number of takeoffs and landings at 18, plus put restrictions on location, frequency, time of day, and noise sensitive areas. Another ordinance directs the city manager to come up with guidelines for a plan to give advance notice and feedback to nearby residents and businesses for future temporary helipads.

The Aviation Director, Jim Smith, gives the final approval of these permits. When we spoke with him at Thursday’s City Council meeting and asked about the residents’ concerns, Smith told us there was no notification because that rule was never written into the code.

Luther says he hopes any changes to the code by the council give Austinites a say down the road.

"They're plopping this thing right down in the middle of us, and we didn't know about it," said Luther.

If approved, staff tells us the changes would take effect after ten days and would not affect current applications, meaning the helipads approved Thursday would still be operational for F1.

Halbrook, the airport spokesman, told us his department does take letters from residents into consideration when deciding on permit approval, which also follows FAA approval and inspection by public safety and other departments.

By Adam Bennett
    Austin Council Eyes F1 Helipad Code Changes After Neighborhood Outcry

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