Glenwood businessman drops his helicopter pad petition

Neighbors' opposition leads to withdrawal of zoning request

June 13, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

A Glenwood man is dropping his bid to get Howard County's approval for a helicopter pad on the roof of his office building along Route 97 because of solid opposition from neighbors.

Steve Walker, who lives and works on his 20-acre property in western Howard, had proposed regulations covering private helicopter use that were to be presented at a county Planning Board hearing tomorrow night, but has withdrawn his request.

That means the issue will not be considered by the board, said county Planning Director Joseph W. Rutter Jr., whose department has no immediate plans to review the topic.

Walker's move came after a meeting last week of the Wellington Homeowners Association in which members voted 28-0 against the use of helicopters in their upscale, rural neighborhood. Wellington members' homes are just behind the office building Walker constructed next to his 19th-century home.

Duncan Brown, president of the association, said he was sympathetic to Walker, "who has been a perfect gentleman and a pleasure to work with." But Brown said he couldn't go against his neighbors.

"I feel bad for the man," Brown said, noting that he has lived and worked near airports and flown on helicopters and has no personal objection to them if operated safely.

But association members think helicopters don't belong in residential areas and that helicopters should be regulated under Howard's laws governing private airports.

"Recognizing that with such opposition, further pursuit of the legislation would only lead to more dissension in the community, I have informed the county that I am withdrawing the proposed legislation," Walker said in a prepared statement. "Thus, helicopters will continue to land `illegally' throughout Howard County; but not at my office. Congratulations, Wellington Homeowners Association."

Walker, 56, declined to comment further.

The multimillionaire specialist in computer security programs had argued that because various businesses in Howard use helicopters occasionally, creating a legal place for them in the county's zoning code would help control what is bound to be a growing phenomenon.

He has been using his helicopter for the past 16 months, at first landing on the lawn behind his office building, but lately using a $10,000 rooftop landing pad that he said is safer and limits the noise more for neighbors. His pilots never land or take off over the homes, he said, but approach and leave from the opposite direction, over farm fields on the south side of Route 97.

Brown said his group's members believe that people who want to use helicopters for personal transportation should use local airports, just as owners of fixed-wing private planes do.

Walker has two helicopters he keeps at an airport in Gaithersburg and has been using them for personal trips to a family vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and for business trips to Northern Virginia and Philadelphia.

His proposal would have required a zoning exception for a landing pad and would prohibit storage of the machines at the pad. In addition, the pad would have to be at least 100 feet from adjoining property lines, 150 feet from any residential property line, and could not operate within 1,000 feet of any church, school or hospital.

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