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Draper Journal

Potential helicopter pad in Draper development draws crowd to council meeting

Dec 13, 2021 01:58PM ● By Mimi Darley Dutton

Draper City Fire Marshall Don Buckley surveys the packed council chambers. Buckley directed people into overflow areas of City Hall to maintain public safety. (Mimi Darley Dutton/City Journals)

By Mimi Darley Dutton | [email protected]

For the first time since before the pandemic began, Draper City Council chambers were packed with people over a proposed development that could potentially include a hospital with a helicopter pad. 

In February 2020, council chambers overflowed with people wanting to speak in opposition to Geneva Rock expanding at The Point of the Mountain. Fast forward 21 months, and this time Draper’s Fire Marshall Don Buckley had to assist the overflow of people to find seats in other parts of City Hall to maintain fire code safety. 

It was a public hearing on the request of Ralph Johnson, developer with Utah Capital LLC of Midvale, to create a new commercial special district and rezone at approximately 166 E. Highland Dr. The development was said to include mostly office, restaurant and retail space with “a medical practitioner, surgery center and some emergency services for the local community,” according to Johnson. He said the project’s history began in 1996 with the creation of an area called “Southpointe” and he was looking for realization of the plan in 2021 with his proposal. The Planning Commission had recommended approval with modifications at their Oct. 14 meeting and forwarded it to City Council for a public hearing Nov. 9. 

The potential helicopter pad, the height of the proposed buildings, and concerns over traffic congestion drew residents to comment publicly in large numbers. The possibility of a helicopter pad for the medical component of the project had been mentioned toward the end of the Planning Commission’s mid-October meeting, but Diane Hooper of Draper said that mention happened after public comment had closed. 

That mention prompted Ian Gillespie to start a “say Heli-no” campaign. Gillespie came to the council meeting to pass out “I love Draper” stickers. He told the council he’d garnered 1,266 signatures in opposition to the project with his online petition. 

“There will be no helicopter pad within the project. We’re glad to tell people it’s something not intended to be there, they can go home and sleep well tonight,” Johnson said in his presentation before the public comment portion began. 

But many feared that if a small hospital or emergency center was established in the development, both noisy ambulances and a helicopter could come to fruition. “The developer’s website notes it will be a trauma center, but those require a helicopter pad. Practically speaking, if you ask any physician, you can’t be a trauma center without a helipad…there’s something in the medical profession called the Golden Hour where you must get treatment, so medical care has to come within the first 60 minutes. Pre-existing hospitals receive noise complaints up to two miles away from helicopter pads,” Beth Park said. 

Others asked why Draper needs more office buildings. “Do we really need these large office buildings when we have so many empty buildings nearby, especially with many businesses moving to a work from home model?” David Barth asked. 

And many were concerned that the development would be detrimental to Draper’s famous flight park. Hang glider pilot Kevin Berry said he’s noticed air quality is getting worse. “This is a world class flying site but it’s deteriorating. This helicopter pad would be within a half mile (of the flight park). I can’t imagine the FAA would allow that,” Berry said, indicating he’d notified the FAA that Draper was considering this proposal. 

Other flight park fans expressed tall buildings in that vicinity would also be bad for flying. Johnson had proposed buildings as tall as 70 feet overall, or 60 feet tall with 10 feet of screening.

Jeff Butler, a pilot from St. Louis, Missouri, urged the council to see it from a different economic perspective. “Look at the economic growth we’ve brought into this city as pilots. The sport has grown nationally and brings in about 20 million dollars into schools plus hotels and restaurants. People come from all over the world to fly here. As our sport grows, your city grows,” Butler said. 

Chandler Point residents came out in full force concerned that they’d lose the views they have from their homes, resulting in loss of their property values.  

Sam and Tiffany Wilkinson came to speak in support of Johnson’s development. Sam said he works in investments and as a business developer and he felt this development fit in the city’s master plan which he said supersedes zoning requirements. “Property is the foundation of every right we have. This is not public property, this is privately owned land,” Tiffany said. 

Councilmember Tasha Lowery told Johnson she wanted to talk to him about the process. “When you first came you wanted staff to make recommendations. The planning commission made many recommendations to you, but those are still not addressed in your application.”

Councilmember Marsha Vawdrey asked if Johnson would be willing to lower the heights of the buildings. “It’s impractical to do that,” Johnson replied. 

Councilmember Mike Green moved to deny the ordinances for Johnson’s development, Lowery seconded Green’s motion, and the motion to deny was passed unanimously by the council.