February 13, 2013

Battle over Helicopter Adventures likely headed to state court

Residents in a Myrtle Beach neighborhood say they aren’t giving up their battle against a nearby helicopter tour business after a judge declined to side with them in court Wednesday.

Residents in a Myrtle Beach neighborhood say they aren’t giving up their battle against a nearby helicopter tour business after a judge declined to side with them in court Wednesday.

Judge Larry Hyman on Wednesday denied a resident’s request to reconsider his Jan. 16 ruling in favor of Helicopter Adventures, which opened in May with a launching pad off 21st Avenue North behind NASCAR SpeedPark.

After the brief hearing at the Horry County Government and Justice Center, residents in Plantation Point said they want the helicopter launching pad to move away from their houses, saying it creates too much noise and creates safety issues.

Rick Hinde, who filed the case, said he planned to appeal Wednesday’s ruling to the S.C. Court of Appeals and ultimately wants Helicopter Adventures to set up shop somewhere else.

“Really an airport is where this needs to be,” Hinde said.

Freddie Rick, owner of Helicopter Adventures, said he followed the proper process before opening and is compliant with noise and other regulations.

“I don’t know what else we can do as good neighbors,” Rick said. “We did everything by law we were supposed to do.”

But the noise complaints weren’t the issue at the heart of the case Wednesday. The question was whether the helicopter tour company is a permitted use in the county’s amusement-commercial zoning. The Horry County zoning administrator originally said it is, then the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals said it isn’t.

Hyman ruled last month that it is allowed in that zoning, and on Wednesday declined Hinde’s request to reconsider that ruling. Hinde has 30 days to appeal Wednesday’ ruling to the S.C. Court of Appeals.

The county’s amusement-commercial zoning allows a variety of outdoor uses and specifically lists sight-seeing depots as being permitted. Helicopter Adventures says it is a sight-seeing depot, Hinde says it isn’t, it’s a helicopter operation.

Ben Baroody, a local attorney representing Helicopter Adventures, told the judge that the company clearly meets the definition of a sight-seeing depot and therefore is allowed in the area.

“It can be nothing else,” he said, adding that the county rules don’t specify that the sight-seeing depot must be by bus or other ground transportation.

The battle dates back to last summer, shortly after Helicopter Adventures opened with a ticket station at Broadway at the Beach and the launching area off 21st Avenue North. The company opened after getting the OK from Horry County Zoning Administrator Rennie Mincey in November 2011 that it was a permitted use in the amusement-commercial zoning.

But as the company started doing test flights and prepared to open in May, it caught the attention of residents in the nearby Plantation Point neighborhood who complained about noise from the choppers and said the operation was hurting their property values.

Helicopter Adventures said it changed some of its flight plans shortly after opening and hearing complaints from some of the neighbors; it used to fly toward the neighborhood then to Broadway at the Beach but now flies in the opposite direction away from the houses, Rick said. Neighbors say the noise is still a problem.

Hinde challenged Mincey’s determination that the helicopter tours is a permitted use in that zone, taking the case to the county’s Zoning Board of Appeals. That board sided with Hinde. Helicopter Adventures appealed that decision, which led to Hyman’s ruling overturning the Zoning Board of Appeals’ decision.

Several Plantation Point residents who attended Wednesday’s hearing said the noise from the choppers makes it unbearable to be outside.

“He needs to be relocated,” resident Mark Loomis said. “That’s not the only place in town he can fly.”

Helicopter Adventures, which offers seven flight tours ranging from $20 to $179.99 a person, has continued to operate amid the legal battle. Rick said regulators have checked the noise and it doesn’t violate the rules.

“We are compliant with all noise ordinances in the county, city and state and have been since the beginning,” Rick said.

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