Many in Bellevue will remember a fight a few years back when Kemper Freeman wanted to establish a helistop on the roof of Bellevue Place. Despite a two-year appeals process and hefty public opposition, the Bellevue City Council ultimately awarded Freeman's development company a helistop permit, with a number of conditions attached to it.
Now, Kemper Development Company (KDC) is attempting to eliminate one of those conditions: a restriction that would limit use of the helistop to twin-engine helicopters only. In its application to modify the permit, KDC claims that there aren’t any twin-engine helicopters in the region that could use the helistop and instead wants the permit to allow single-engine choppers.
Given a statistically safer accident record among multi-engine helicopters, the potential elimination of such a key safety condition is raising community concerns, particularly among those who opposed the helistop the first time around. According to expert testimony during the Hearing Examiner process in 2010, an accident would be unpreventable if an engine were to fail on a single-engine helicopter.
Despite such significant safety implications, the proposed change requires only an “administrative amendment,” which can be easily approved by City staff without a public hearing or council consideration. On top of the limited opportunities for public involvement, the City’s decision to only notify the public in late June (despite KDC’s February application) is also baffling.
What’s more, the helistop may be illegal now under current City law. Just months after granting KDC the initial helistop permit in 2011, the City Council approved a citywide ban on future non-emergency private-use helistops. Though the Bellevue Place helistop was grandfathered in at that time, any modifications to its permit now should bring the facility up to the current code.
With so many practical and legal concerns bogging the helistop permit down, there’s now a strong incentive for the City to give the matter further examination and public process. A project with such enormous public impact but only private benefit deserves the close scrutiny and eye of concerned citizens.
Those wishing to comment can email City planner Carol Hamlin at email@example.com. The City will also hold a public meeting at 6pm this Thursday, August 1st, inside the City Hall Council Chambers. Concerned citizens and neighbors are encouraged to attend.