North Myrtle Beach votes against helicopter tour business near Windy Hill community, residents applaud

About a hundred residents attended the Thursday night meeting at city hall, with several speaking against the business’ request.
About a hundred residents attended the Thursday night meeting at city hall, with several speaking against the business’ request. cbyun@thesunnews.com

Some residents expressed relief and others applauded when a request to offer helicopter tours near the Windy Hill community was denied Thursday night.

The city’s Board of Zoning Appeals unanimously voted against giving a helicopter tour business a special exception to current zoning rules. About a hundred residents attended the Thursday night meeting at city hall, with several speaking against the business’ request.

“I appreciate the business venture, but the noise and traffic distraction is just going to be too much,” said Linda Morrison, board member of the Windy Hill Woods property owners association.

The land – situated just south of Horry County State Bank on U.S. 17 and Windy Hill Road Extension – is owned by Carroll Rogers, who submitted paperwork to allow a helicopter tour business on the property. Rogers was not at the meeting so Steve Powell, who represents Venture Engineering, presented the business’ request to the board.

Rogers is leasing the land to the helicopter company.

“We weren’t received very warmly, but I can see why,” Powell said after the veto. He didn’t know if Rogers would resubmit a new location for the business to the board.

“Looking at this location, it’s the best site outside of the airport,” Powell said. “So now we would have to find somewhere else.”

The Grand Strand Airport already hosts Executive Helicopters, Inc., which gives tours over Little River, according to their website.

Rogers’ helicopter business would give several different pre-mapped tours, all lasting about an hour, Powell said. The company would require three to four helicopters and a building large enough to store all of them, in the case of a major storm.

At street level, the noise of the helicopters 300 feet in the air is about 10 decibels less than the noise from traffic, Powell said, so noise pollution would be minimal. He said the noise level from the helicopters would be equal to noise from traffic on North Kings Highway.

Randy Briley, Windy Hill Woods resident, disagreed.

“We live in a very quiet neighborhood – you can hear the birds most mornings,” Briley said. “Traffic is not a problem, but the noise from helicopters taking off and landing would be.”

Other residents cited safety concerns, including the distraction it would cause to drivers on U.S. 17. Morrison, Windy Hill woods board member, said the sudden burst of wind caused by helicopters landing and taking off would lead to more traffic accidents.

“The sudden, loud and fast-moving wind is going to distract drivers,” she said.

Rogers cited an exception that allows “rides,” subject to certain conditions; contribution to economic vitality, harmony with the surrounding area and compliance to development standards and requirements are some of the conditions listed under the exception.

The S.C. Aeronautics Commission, in a letter to Sean Hoelscher, senior planner for the city, found the proposed land use incompatible with Grand Strand Airport and poses “an unreasonable or unacceptable risk to aviation safety or to persons and property on the ground.”

The commission cites interference with an airport runway, lack of FAA paperwork, and incompatible line of sight with Grand Strand Airport’s air traffic control tower as reasons to deny the exception, according to the letter.

Board member Cynthia Lover made the motion to disallow a zoning exemption, arguing that the business would negatively affect the nearby bank and neighborhoods.

“The problem I’m having is that the business will not be in harmony with nearby areas,” she said.

Contact CLAIRE BYUN at 626-0381 and follow her on Twitter @Claire_TSN.