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Proposal to allow private helicopters on Gull Lake divides residents

The East Gull Lake Planning Commission is expected to vote on the proposed amendment later this month.

A proposal that would allow helipads on private property in the city of East Gull Lake has become a contentious issue among residents and property owners in the Brainerd Lakes Area.

There currently aren't any regulations for private helicopters and helipads in city code or county use ordinances, city documents say. So, the city is considering a proposal to include helipads as an acceptable use in city code, which would then allow residents to add helipads to their private property – and fly their helicopters there – if they get the proper permits. 

The proposal stems from the desire of property owner Doug Schieffer to travel by helicopter from his home near the Twin Cities to his 9-acre property on Sunset View Road, on Floan Point, which is on the southeastern side of Gull Lake, the Brainerd Dispatch said.

The proposal has some people upset, worried about the noise affecting the tranquility of the area and wildlife, as well as the safety of having helicopters taking off and landing, according to letters submitted to the city. There's also a Facebook page dedicated to helping prevent helipads from being allowed in East Gull Lake. 

Meanwhile, others have written letters in support of helipads in the city, with some saying they went outside during a test flight last year and did not find the experience objectionable. 

According to the Star Tribune, Schieffer didn't think people would be concerned for safety due to the fact the area is between two airports – there's a seaplane base in Steamboat Bay and an airstrip at Madden's Resort. He added that he's done everything he can to please the neighbors, noting he worked with the city to create restrictions that are stricter than FAA guidelines. 

As the proposal is currently written, helipads could only be allowed on a property that's 5 acres or larger on a lake, city documents say. The Brainerd Dispatch reported only 15 properties in the city (10 on Gull Lake, three on Ruth Lake, one on Sylvan Lake and one on Dade Lake) would qualify to have helipads.

City documents state other proposed restrictions with helipads, including limiting the number of takeoffs and landings to two per day, and requiring recreational flights to be done from East Gull Lake Airport. Flight times would be limited to between 7 a.m. (or dawn) to dusk and helicopters wouldn't be allowed to take off in winds that exceed 20 knots, in conditions where visibility is less than 3 miles and when cloud heights are lower than 1,000 feet above the ground.

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Commission to decide this month on proposed amendment

In October 2019, the city discussed helipads and decided to move forward with a public hearing on amending the city ordinance. At that time, the city received letters from 11 people regarding the issue – nine were in favor of helipads and two were opposed, city documents show

A public hearing on the proposed amendment was held during an East Gull Lake Planning Commission meeting on July 28 (listen to audio from the meeting below). The Brainerd Dispatch details what everyone had to say at the more than 2-hour meeting. 

That night, the commission decided to table the proposed amendment until later this month.

The city's planning commission has a working session open to the public at 6 p.m. on Aug. 24 to review findings of fact for both for and against the proposal with the East Gull Lake city attorney, City Administrator Rob Mason told BMTN. 

Then, at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 25, the planning commission will hold a regular meeting, during which it is expected to make a decision on the proposal. 

Both meetings are being held at Cragun's Legacy Clubhouse to allow for physical distancing and accommodate more people than City Hall can hold, which is about 15 people with distancing, Mason said.  

If the majority of the planning commission votes in favor of the proposed amendment, it would then go before the East Gull Lake City Council for a vote (a minimum of four votes is required for it to pass) before anyone would be allowed to apply to add a helipad within city limits. 

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