Helicopter Pads Approved at Westlake

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In case of emergency, it is nice to know we will soon have helicopter landing pads accessible near Smith Mountain Lake. Jason M. Dunovant of the Smith Mountain Eagle tells the story.

Noticing a helicopter fly overhead may soon be a common occurrence in Westlake. The Franklin County Planning Commission approved plans last week for two helipads to be constructed in the area.

Carilion Health System has plans for a helipad as part of a proposed imaging center and urgent care center to be built behind the Westlake Towne Center. The other helipad is part of an urgent care center proposed by Dr. Diane Rowell slated for construction on Morewood Road behind CVS.

The helipad proposed by Rowell came under some criticism from Lake residents last month. During a community meeting Feb. 26 to discuss the helipad, several residents voiced their displeasure for the plans. Some were concerned with Alouf Construction’s plans to construct the headquarters to All American Aviation, along with an urgent care center at the proposed site.

Alouf Construction and All American Aviation owner Tom Alouf have agreed to pay the initial $70,000 for the helipad and an additional $10,000 per year to maintain it. Under the proposed plan, All American Aviation will have access to the helipad to conduct its private business. All American Aviation would also house a helicopter at the location as well as take off and land at the location an estimated 25 or fewer times a month.

During last week’s meeting, some residents shared heir concerns with the Franklin County Planning Commission.

"I’m in favor the helipad, but not connected to a commercial entity," Lake resident Doug Mackechnie said.

But while some residents attended the meeting against Dr. Rowell and Alouf Construction’s proposed helipad, many more attended to state their approval.

Several residents expressed their concerns over the lack of a helipad in the Lake area. Residents stated the need for a helipad so emergency helicopters could have a safe place to land instead of in open fields, parking lots, and on highways.

"Every time you land on a helipad, it’s so much safer," Lake resident John Snidow said.

Carilion’s plans for an imaging center and helipad received less criticism from residents in attendance, but there were concerns with the helipad’s close proximity to Booker T. Washington National Monument. Park superintendent Rebecca Harriet explained her concerns to the commission during the meeting.

"Our concern is the altitude of the helicopter over the monument during takeoff and landings. The noise level and the frequency of use could possibly have a negative impact on the visitor’s experience and also on the park’s livestock and wildlife," Harriet said.

When the issue of the two helipads came to a vote, commission members had few objections to either proposal. Commission members also had little concern for the close proximity of the two helipads less than a mile apart from each other.

"As far as I’m concerned, we can have them both," Boone District representative David Wiseman said.

One of the only commission members to raise any objections to either proposal was Gills Creek representative Bob Camicia. Camicia noted the concerns of some lake residents in attendance who disapproved of the commercial business connected to the helipad proposed by Rowell and Alouf Construction. Camica was also concerned that approving these helipads could open the door for non-emergency helipads to come to the lake in the future.

"How do we set the limits?" Camica asked.

Despite the objections of Camica, the commission approved the proposal by Rowell and Alouf Construction by a vote of 6-1, with Camica being the lone dissenting vote.

The board approved Carilion’s plan for a helipad by a unanimous vote after Carilion officials agreed to work with Booker T. Washington National Park to reduce any possible negative impact to the park.

The Franklin County Board of Supervisors will hear both plans on April 24.

Article by Jason M. Dunovant of the Smith Mountain Eagle.

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