Will a Raleigh Heliport Take Flight?

Heli-taxis may be coming soon to air space above you.

The Raleigh Board of Adjustment on Monday approved a request for a permit to build a heliport near Interstate 440 and Capital Boulevard with up to three helicopter landing pads.

Scott Moore, a partner in the project, envisions a full-service heliport, with storage, sales, maintenance, repairs and refueling capabilities.

"It's an untapped market," said Moore, noting that no such business exists in Wake County.

Moore was up against Walt Fulcher, a zoning enforcement administrator who told the board that city staff was opposed to the proposed heliport at Monday's hearing.

And Paul Brant, a member of the Northeast Citizens Advisory Council, spoke out against the request, citing safety concerns.

But Moore brought an attorney and expert witnesses, convincing the board to approve the permit -- though some members, too, had noise and safety concerns.

Fulcher said certain conditions needed to be met for the special-use permit to be granted, namely that the Federal Aviation Administration approved of a heliport there.

Fulcher also said the noise generated by the helicopters would exceed the city's noise ordinance.

To the issue of air space clearance, attorney Jason Barron said that the FAA won't accept an application until the applicants have been cleared by the local officials.

But Kathleen Bergen, public affairs manager in the FAA's Atlanta office, said that local approval was not needed before submitting a notice of a landing proposal, which starts the federal approval process rolling.

She added that local ordinances take precedence over FAA approval.

The board, however, said its approval is contingent on FAA approval.

Bergen said Raleigh Heliport LLC submitted the landing proposal on Wednesday and that the proposal would be studied by the FAA before a determination is issued. That process can take three to six months, she said.

During the meeting, Noral Stewart of Stewart Acoustical Consultants, told the board that noise created by helicopters arriving and departing is not something Raleigh's noise ordinance has jurisdiction over.

Brant, the CAC member, complained that traffic on Capital Boulevard and Interstate 440 is already congested and motorists already have trouble merging. Helicopters would cause further confusion, he said.

"Imagine yourself in the busiest time of the day and all of the sudden, out of the sky, a helicopter drops out of the sky," said Brant.

Board member Mildred Flynn agreed and was the only member to vote against the permit.

It's not the first business venture for Moore, who had planned on setting up a dealership for Chery cars imported from China. Moore said it would probably be several years before those cars would be available for him to sell.

In April, Moore paid $2.5 million for the 9.44-acre lot, where his used car dealership, Murphy Motor Co., sits on the southwestern portion of the property.

A limousine service is operating out of a small portion of the roughly 70,000-square-foot building that Moore hopes to convert into the heliport. That building formerly housed a Crown Pontiac Isuzu dealership.

Moore and partner Doug Southerland hatched the idea of a heliport over a beer one night, said Southerland.

The duo hopes to offer "air-taxi" to corporate clients to and from Raleigh-Durham International Airport and anywhere else they want a lift to, including Charlotte.

They had also hoped to offer the service to and from Carter Finley Stadium, but the board drew a line that may make that difficult: Except for law enforcement and emergency medical uses, the hours of operation would be restricted to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week.

Moore said that if the FAA gives approval, it would take another three to four months for them to get their business running.

(Staff writer Sam LaGrone contributed to this report.)

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