State board seeks input on private landing sites
BENNINGTON — Citing a steady number of applications for private helipad, landing strip or seaplane site permits, the Vermont Transportation Board is asking about the concerns of local officials and their level of municipal regulation.
The board recently sent messages to cities and towns, along with information on applicable state law and regulation, said Executive Secretary John Zicconi. He said replies are sought by July 1 concerning applications to site helicopter landing areas or other aviation facilities for private use.
"The board also recognizes that many municipalities do not have a process for municipal approval of these facilities." the letter stated. "We encourage all cities and towns to consider adopting such a process."
Reached Friday by phone, Zicconi said the transportation board has fielded roughly two permit requests annually over the six years he has been in his position. Some of those requests have come from second homeowners wishing to fly in from their primary residence location to their Vermont property.
"Our process," Zicconi said, "is that we don't consider applications unless they have local approval."
But he said many towns don't have local permitting requirements for such facilities, which leaves the decision up to the board, pending the results of a technical review by VTrans aviation officials.
The board does have the option of specifying conditions of operation when approving a permit.
Zicconi said an example of how the process might play out occurred in Dorset in 2017, when town officials informed the board in a letter that there were no local regulations regarding helipads and deferred an application to the board.
Some communities determine "they have to punt to us" if they have no local regulation in place, he said.
After VTrans had reviewed that request and found the application complete, the board decided in January 2017 to schedule a public hearing in Dorset in the spring. However, before that hearing took place, the applicant withdrew the request amid expressions of opposition among some residents.
A similar board hearing is scheduled for next month for a private air strip permit in the town of Panton, near Vergennes. That site was once used for crop spraying or similar flights, Zicconi said, but it was never formally permitted and a new owner has filed a permit application.
Old, unclear regulation
In its letter to local officials, the board said state regulation concerning board reviews of such facilities "were written long ago and provide little guidance on how the board is to consider such applications other than that an application be supported by `a showing that the proposed facility has received municipal approval' and the mandate that the board `consider and determine whether in the public interest the application ought to be granted.' Neither statute nor the board's rules, however, define `municipal approval' or `public interest.'"
Zicconi said another factor is that some recent requests are for sites closer to village areas of communities, as opposed to more isolated rural locations.
He said the board "seeks input that will help guide its discussions and decision making prior to embarking on the formal rule-making process."
Asked about regulation in Bennington, Assistant Town Manager and Planning Director Daniel Monks said Friday, "I don't believe we have any regulations that explicitly address the issue. Arguably, however, only uses that are specifically allowed are permitted under the zoning regs."
Manchester Planning and Zoning Director Janet Hurley said, "Our proposed zoning would allow either [facility] in the proposed Office Industrial District," but she added that there have been no such applications in recent years.
Zicconi can be reached for further information about the outreach effort at email@example.com.
Regulations pertaining to the applicable state law can be found at https://legislature.vermont.gov/statutes/fullchapter/05/009 in Section 207 of the statute.
Jim Therrien writes for New England Newspapers in Southern Vermont and VTDigger.org. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. @BB_therrien on Twitter.
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