ROCKPORT — The Federal Aviation Administration has advised against what have turned to be two proposals from a Rockport homeowner to build a helicopter landing pad on his private properties on Granite Street, finding that both would pose neighborhood safety hazards.
The aviation administration issued a so-called "determination of hazard" on Thursday for owner Ron Roma's proposed helipad at 129 Granite St., warning that the property would be a hazardous location for a helipad, administration spokesman Jim Peters said Friday.
The FAA had also issued a "determination of hazard" for a similar helipad request sought previously by Roma for his Brick House property at 121 Granite St., according to Peters. A story and editorial in the Times earlier this week had recognized only one of Roma's two landing site proposals.
In its decision to determine the 129 Granite helipad request as hazardous, the Federal Aviation Administration considered input from town officials, including the town's buildings inspector, Paul M. Orlando, and the town administrator.
In a May 22 email to Jason Hudson of the aviation administration, forwarded yesterday to the Times, Orlando wrote that the helipad "would not be an allowed use ... within the town zoning bylaws."
The bylaw law requires that any "accessory" to a property, like a helipad, not be "detrimental to a residential neighborhood," Orlando said. Orlando determined that the helipad would be harmful to neighbors who border Roma's 75-foot-wide 129 Granite St., property adjacent to the Yankee Clipper Inn.
Town Administrator Linda Sanders, adding to the town's input in the Federal Aviation Administration report, wrote a letter to Hudson saying the Board of Selectmen has already received many complaints from citizens about the helipad.
"It would be extremely disruptive to allow a private heliport on Granite Street," she wrote.
The aviation administration's decision against the helipad does not necessarily rule out all possibility of the construction of a helipad in Rockport, according to FAA spokeswoman Arlene Salac. Salac said that even if the FAA deems a proposed helipad location as hazardous, an applicant can move forward in the process and seek approval from the state and town, though the applicant is less likely to be granted the go-ahead to build.
The application to the FAA is the first step toward any such approval.
The next step for Roma, according to the Sanders, would be to go for a variance in front of the town's Zoning Board of Appeals.
"That process is not an easy one for anyone to get through," Sanders said.
The zoning board administrator, Bill Christopher, said the zoning board is not yet involved with the helipad issue because no zoning bylaws have been contested by Roma yet. The city does not have zoning bylaws that address air crafts or helipads, Christopher said.
"Until someone comes to the zoning board with an appeal for relief from a nonconforming issue, we have no jurisdiction," Christopher said. "That property has been in conformity with zoning bylaws since the beginning," he added.
Alan Battistelli, the contractor who built Roma's Brick House and the former zoning administrator who remains a member of the zoning board, said he thinks Roma will pass on the opportunity to go for a local variance. He added that, if a helipad plan for the properties arises before the board, he would sit out the process.
"I doubt very much this would end up in front of the Board of Appeals. I don't know if Mr. Roma would bother," Battistelli said after being told Friday of the FAA's findings. "But I would obviously recuse myself. I have a financial relationship with Ron, so it just wouldn't be fair."
Though Battistelli said he knows no details about the helipad project at 129 Granite St., he said Roma will "likely" hire him to build a house on the property.
Battistelli's wife, Erin, who sits on the board of selectmen, would also likely be required to recuse herself if the issue comes before the selectmen.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.