Firefigthing helicopter company under zoning violation

Rampart Helicopter Services has applied for rezoning to correct violation, to neighbors' dismay

Posted 6/18/18

The future of Rampart Helicopter Services and its relationship with Douglas County remained uncertain as of June 12 when county commissioners could not reach a decision while debating how to resolve …

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Firefigthing helicopter company under zoning violation

Rampart Helicopter Services has applied for rezoning to correct violation, to neighbors' dismay

Posted

The future of Rampart Helicopter Services and its relationship with Douglas County remained uncertain as of June 12 when county commissioners could not reach a decision while debating how to resolve a zoning violation on the part of Rampart — and how to mitigate a dispute between the helicopter business and neighboring residents.

Douglas County has long relied on Rampart as one of several air-support services it calls on to fight fires. The company is owned by Jeff Armstrong, and his Huey helicopter is piloted by a 30-year flying veteran, Bryan Toomey.

“I know this hasn't been easy for any of us,” Armstrong said June 12.

Rampart, based on unincorporated land near Castle Rock at 1251 Haystack Drive, has responded to incidents like the Chatridge Fire in Douglas County, which burned more than 200 acres in 2016.

That same year, however, a complaint filed with the county pointed out Rampart was violating its zoning. Douglas County works on a complaint-based system, meaning the county does not actively police zoning but launches investigations if complaints are filed, said Steve Koster, assistant director of planning services for Douglas County.

"We rely primarily on complaints coming in to find out about these things," Koster said. "Douglas County is a big place and we have to rely on getting those calls by and large, because we don't have the resources to be going door-to-door inspecting."

The property on which Rampart runs is zoned Agricultural One, which does not permit the operation of a commercial heliport. Koster said Rampart received a permit to build a barn, now used as the company's heliport, which would be permissible under the agricultural zoning.

Rampart has operated at its location since 2005 and constructed the hangar in 2007.

The company's choice once a complaint arose was to cease operating or bring the property into compliance.

When Rampart applied to rezone its property neighboring residents Ken and Laurel Maupin raised concerns regarding noise generated by the helicopter, traffic to and from the site, the number of vehicles parked on the site and the heliport's effect on their property value.

“We can hear the helicopter even over our own lawn mower when we're on it,” Laurel Maupin said.

Armstrong said from boot-up to takeoff is roughly a 7- to 10-minute timespan and the helicopter has taken off 18 times this year.

The company is unique from the county's other air-support service contracts as it's the only one based in Douglas County. From takeoff, Rampart can reach the farthest points of Douglas County in roughly 20 minutes. The contract is a "Call When Needed" service with the option to place Rampart on "Exclusive Use," in the case of a major wildfire in the county, for example. Call When Needed costs $2,150 an hour. Placing Rampart on Exclusive Use cost $3,500 daily with an additional hourly cost of $2,150.

Armstrong hopes to get his nearly 20 acres rezoned from Agricultural One to Planned Development. No development is proposed on his property, but the new zoning would allow him to operate his heliport.

“Losing this asset is huge. Losing the timing of this asset is huge,” Armstrong said.

Armstrong can continue operating Rampart while the issue is debated. But should commissioners reject his zoning application, he can no longer run Rampart from his current location, and he could be fined if he failed to comply from that point on, Koster said.

The Maupins said they value the service Rampart provides and hope it stays in the county, but they want Rampart moved to another location.

“We need this service. We want to be a partner in what he's doing and what he can offer the county,” Laurel said.

Armstrong and the Maupins held a mitigation meeting in the week before the June 12 commissioner meeting. Both parties said their relationship is cordial, but they could not reach any agreements. Armstrong has also offered to buy the Maupins' property to resolve the issue, he said.

Numerous residents submitted letters of support for Rampart and its zoning application, but commissioners empathized with the Maupins, who live nearest the heliport among area neighbors.

Commissioners further debated if Rampart was a compatible land use in the residential area. They noted that should they rezone, the new uses would go into perpetuity, including if Rampart were to sell the land to a new user.

The board voted 2-1, following an executive session for legal advice around rezoning options, to continue the agenda item on July 24.

“I think you are one of the most upstanding citizens for how you have responded to the need of the community,” Commissioner Roger Partridge told Armstrong before the vote.

Tim Johnson, Douglas County's director of emergency management, said however the issue is resolved he hopes the county can continue working with Rampart. The county contracts with two other helicopter companies it can rely on, Johnson said, although they're based in northern Colorado.

It's the second time the issue has been continued. Commissioners this time asked Armstrong to return with more proposals to mitigate the land-use issue.

Commissioner Lora Thomas voted against continuing the agenda item, saying she did not believe Armstrong could meet rezoning criteria, regardless of further mitigation, and that it would set precedent for other landowners to rezone.

“We may have opened a Pandora's box and the first domino has fallen and this area could be changed significantly,” she said of approving the rezoning.

“We take them very seriously,” Partridge said of zoning applications. “Rezoning does impact the whole neighborhood.”

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