‘FAMILY ATTRACTION’: Copter Idea Falls Flat


— Planning commissioners shot down a business’ efforts Monday to provide year-round helicopter flights to the public.

The commission voted, 6-3, to deny a conditional-use permit to Camron McAhern, owner of Arkansas Helicopters, that would have allowed weekend flights over Beaver Lake, the University of Arkansas, Arvest Ballpark and Lake Fayetteville on a regular basis.

McAhern’s single helicopter has been taking off and landing at Mae Farm, an organic farm and event space located at 4618 N. College Ave., under a 90-day outdoor mobile vendor permit.

McAhern said his company has provided approximately 1,150 rides during the 24 days he has operated on Mae Farm’s roughly 17.5-acre property.

“It’s a great family attraction, and that’s what we’re trying to do to that area,” McAhern said.

Residents who spoke against issuing a more permanent permit Monday — most of whom live north and east of the property in Springdale — said they were mostly concerned with the added noise the helicopter caused.

“When they first started this little project, I, for certain, thought they were taking the roofs off,” said Sharon Ferguson, who lives on Windsor Ave., west of Outback Steakhouse. “It was really horrendous.”

Springdale resident Al Newton told the commission he appreciated McAhern’s attempts to bring business to the area but recommended locating that businesses at the Fayetteville Executive Airport or Springdale Municipal Airport.

Planning commissioner Tracy Hoskins was more unequivocal in his opposition.

“I can’t think of a worse idea in a worse area than this,” Hoskins said.

Commissioner Hugh Earnest, who, along with Matthew Cabe and William Chesser, voted against denying the conditional-use permit, emphasized that a study conducted by the Fayetteville Police Department showed decibel levels permitted within the city’s noise ordinance.

“We have an individual back there who’s trying very hard and very diligently to make a successful operation of something,” Earnest said. “And I do hope we keep that in mind as we go through this.”

Ultimately, the commission voted against issuing the permit.

Also on Monday, the Planning Commission forwarded, 8-1, a request to rezone property in the Ruskin Heights subdivision to the City Council with a recommendation for approval.

Commissioner Hoskins was the only one to oppose the action.

Many of property owners living near the planned 29-acre development, south of Mission Boulevard and roughly 0.5-mile west of Crossover Road, complimented the potential buyer of the land, Fayetteville developer Mitchell Massey, and the engineers for the project, with Jorgensen and Associates, for meeting with them in two neighborhood meetings since an initial rezoning hearing was tabled by the Planning Commission on July 11.

Several of those property owners asked for clarity on how a bill of assurance guaranteeing a lower density than first proposed on the site could change in the future and how the development would fit into the city’s hillside-hilltop overlay district.

The bill of assurance presented Monday would limit density on the southern and eastern edges of the property to six single-family units per acre. Overall the zoning recommended Monday would allow no more than 139 residential units to be built with no more than 30,000 square feet of commercial space along Mission Boulevard, said Justin Jorgensen with Jorgensen and Associates.

City Attorney Kit Williams assured residents the bill of assurance would apply to the land in the future — even if the development fails — and could only be modified with City Council approval.

To address drainage and erosion concerns, William and Jeremy Pate, Development Services director, explained that the property would be subject to regulations under the hillside-hilltop overlay district, unless variances were approved at a later point by the Planning Commission.

Under those regulations, 30 percent of existing trees would have to be preserved in the development and 30 percent of each individual lot would have to be kept as undisturbed areas.

The City Council is expected to consider the rezoning request for Ruskin Heights next month.