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Change in trees might resolve Plum heliport dispute

| Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Plum's borough planning commission made a decision that could settle a yearlong appeal of conditions placed on Cherokee Helicopter Service's new site on Eastern Avenue.

The commission agreed to change one of the conditions and permit the property owner, Lewis Galamb, to plant arborvitae trees rather than pine or hemlock trees to serve as an evergreen buffer.

If council ratifies that decision next month, Cherokee Walker, the helicopter service owner, will drop the appeal he filed last year and will agree to all conditions council placed on the site.

The change in trees will increase the number of those planted from 52 to at least 186, but it will be less expensive, said Walker's attorney, Patrick Thomassey.

It also will be a thicker barrier because the trees will be planted in two staggered rows, with a tree planted every three feet.

"I have a driveway that is 150 feet long and my arborvitaes are a wonderful border," said Robert Zunich, vice chairman of the planning commission. "Why should we spend any time arguing over what is an acceptable screen• It's a suitable replacement."

When Walker filed the appeal in May 2008, he claimed council's conditions create unnecessary obstacles to the intended purpose for the property and are unreasonable and create an unnecessary financial hardship for him.

The site, on Eastern Avenue, is zoned for industrial use. A heliport is permitted as a conditional use in industrial zones.

The planning commission first approved the plans unanimously, with its own set of conditions, in February 2008. The plan was sent to council for action that March, but council sent it back to the planning commission after hearing residents' concerns.

People who live near the proposed site started speaking out against the plan last fall, citing noise, dust, safety and property values as concerns.

Walker agreed to most of the requirements before the request went to council the first time. When the plan went back to the planning commission, and conditions were added, Walker began to express some reservations.

The main conditions include a tree buffer to shield against noise and dust, the addition of a 100-square-foot grass area surrounding the asphalt landing pad, and restrictions on the times helicopters could land or take off from the site.

The hours of operation are limited to daylight hours between sunrise and sunset, except on weekends when later start times are in effect.

Additional Information:

Coming up

Who: Plum Council

What: Discuss the planning commission's recommendation concerning a heliport in East Oakmont

When: 7 p.m. Monday

Where: Borough building, 4575 New Texas Road

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