There is a lot to be said for a homeowner being able to expand his or her house or property as he or she chooses, as long as it does not bring new problems for his or her neighbors.
And people within a neighborhood or a community cannot expect a town board to reject a building project on private property just because they may not likes the looks of it.
But it's not hard to see how a proposed helipad pegged for one of Rockport's most controversial properties can do anything but raise safety concerns for other residents around that section of Granite Street. Those weighing the many factors that go into evaluating this application from both the FAA's and town's perspectives should give those neighborhood safety concerns the highest priority as this complex process moves forward.
The helipad is being sought by Ron Roma, a part-time town resident and the CEO of the Tampa, Fla.-based Health E. Systems pharmacy benefit management company who didn't exactly endear himself to neighbors last year when he rode alongside a Beverly-based pilot flying a copter low over Roma's so-called "Brick House" on Granite Street. The craft hovered briefly as if to simulate a landing — a hint of the now-pending application — then flew away, drawing 911 calls from neighbors about both the noise and the effect on ground debris.
While confirming the application, FAA officials Wednesday could not say whether the planned helipad would be on the flat roof section of the house, or elsewhere on the property. An FAA spokeswoman, speaking from the agency's New York office, said the FAA is simply looking into whether the site in general — on the ocean side of Granite Street, and on a bluff sitting high above the Atlantic Ocean — would be a hazardous place for helicopters to land and, of course, take off.
That decision is expected within a few weeks — but that will hardly be the end of the line.
The FAA's finding will be significant, but also largely advisory for local officials to consider when weighing whether to allow construction.
To that end, Selectman Paul Murphy said Wednesday that he's dubious. He says he's prepared to strongly oppose any permitting for any Rockport resident to build a helipad, given the safety and other concerns it would raise for neighbors. That's understandable.
The fact is, while the Brick House property backs down to the water — likely leaving a clear zone for landings and takeoffs — other houses on both sides of the street are within close proximity to Roma's property. It's hard to imagine those neighbors would not believe their safety and quality of life would be threatened any time Roma or his colleagues came in for a landing — as the virtual landing showed in March 2011.
The FAA will indeed get to make the first call regarding this proposal. But town officials must also be prepared to field this application, regardless of what the FAA decides.
Yes, there are other helicopter landing zones across Cape Ann, including the fields of Gloucester's O'Maley Middle School, where medical flights take off and land as close as possible to Addison Gilbert Hospital. And yes, famed defense attorney F. Lee Bailey was known to arrive and depart Rockport in a helicopter when he had a summer home there.
But a helipad in the relatively tight residential area of Granite Street is a far cry from adding a back deck, or a swimming pool.
It's a project that will indeed impact the entire neighborhood — and it's one to which the town's selectmen should be prepared to just say "no."