A controversial plan to build Loudoun County’s first residential helipad inched closer to reality last week, after receiving a vote of support from the Loudoun County Planning Commission.
After a public hearing, the commission voted Tuesday to recommend that the county Board of Supervisors approve the application submitted in July by Charles Kuhn, president and chief executive of Sterling-based JK Moving Services, to operate a helipad on 540-acre Egypt Farm in Purcellville.
The helipad would allow Kuhn to bypass highway congestion and conduct his frequent business travel more efficiently, Kuhn has said. The helipad would also allow him to spend more time with his family at Egypt Farm, he said.
After the Washington Business Journal published an article in July about the application, some of Kuhn’s neighbors became alarmed at the prospect of a helicopter buzzing over their rural community, and they quickly made their concerns public. They started a Facebook page called “Keep Western Loudoun Peaceful,” talked about their concerns on Twitter and launched a MoveOn.org petition to urge Loudoun supervisors to reject the application.
About 160 residents had signed the petition — which says the helipad would “disrupt the lifestyle of the Loudoun Valley” — as of Friday. Several left comments along with their digital signatures.
“There is already too much aircraft noise in this rural area, from helicopters to Mt. Weather, small craft into Leesburg Airport, and certain large commercial jets out of Dulles. Stop the madness!” Linda Stoutenburgh of Purcellville wrote.
“It is also the danger of the precedent of establishing a private helipad. This could be the first of many,” Ken Kukovich of Lovettsville said.
Despite the initial backlash, dozens of residents at the commission’s public hearing Tuesday appeared evenly split between supporting and opposing the proposal. Although some speakers echoed the complaints stated on the petition — saying that the sound of the helicopter would be disruptive to livestock and to residents below — others urged approval of the application. Some pointed out that Kuhn’s purchase of Egypt Farm resulted in the conservation of the property, which might otherwise have been used for another housing development. Others noted that Kuhn’s business has been a strong contributor to Loudoun’s workforce and economy.
“This is a very reasonable request that will permit the owner of this large rural property to effectively conduct business from his home and work his farm, which directly contributes to the county’s economy, labor force and tax base,” Richard Corrigan, a neighbor of Egypt Farm, said at the hearing. “We are more than pleased to trade additional helicopter flights for preventing unwarranted residential development.”
Kuhn has previously noted that the application does not seek permission to fly over farms and property in Loudoun — he already has that permission, as do all aviators in the area. The application aims only to allow his helicopter to touch down and take off from the property, a point reiterated Tuesday by Paul Schaaf, a former chief pilot of the Fairfax County Helicopter Division who spoke on Kuhn’s behalf at the meeting.
Planning Commission members acknowledged that Kuhn’s application included numerous concessions and compromises, including an agreement to limit the helipad’s use to 10 takeoffs and 10 landings each week. The helicopter is said to be much quieter than military helicopters that frequently fly over Loudoun, and noise from Kuhn’s takeoffs and landings would be a softer, lower-decibel sound that should be audible only to neighbors for about 12 seconds at a time, Schaaf said.
With the commission’s vote to recommend approval of the application, the matter will go before the Board of Supervisors next month.
Before supervisors make their final vote, residents will have another chance to share their opinions on the helipad application at a public hearing.