Bluff residents weigh in on aviation debate

by David Boyle
News Director
A total of 17 Bluff community members provided oral comments at a May 22 public hearing to consider whether the Town of Bluff should adopt an ordinance limiting or restricting aviation traffic within town boundaries.
The public hearing followed a special April 14 meeting where members of the Bluff Town Council unanimously passed a resolution placing a moratorium on the development, construction, or operation of new aviation facilities within the town.
The temporary prohibition applies for up to 180 days and allows the town to review and revise its land use ordinances.
The conversations around aviation facilities come as plans are in motion by Desert Rose Inn to construct a helipad and run tours from near their hotel. The town resolution notes that commercial helicopter operations have the “potential of creating significant impacts that may negatively affect adjacent property owners.”
Among those listed include noise, lighting, visual, air pollution, and safety concerns.
While the proposed Desert Rose Tours sparked interest in the ordinance, the planning and zoning committee and the town council have emphasized the hearing and discussion of the ordinance should be done in general terms.
Speaking before the public hearing Bluff Planning and Zoning chair Amanda Podmore addressed the subject of the hearing.
“Currently our code does not zone for helicopter use. So we’re considering whether or not that’s appropriate and where that might be appropriate. Tonight we are not discussing particular individuals or businesses, we are not discussing land use clearance or buildings, just keeping it to the zoning of our town.”
The public hearing on May 22 saw a high turnout with 17 public comments. Although the 45-minute conversation had plenty of nuances, about eight public comments were in favor of adopting an ordinance limiting or restricting aviation traffic in Bluff town limits with about eight against.
At the public hearing, Desert Rose Inn owner Amer Tumeh said that the conversation is about Desert Rose, despite what other people say. Tumeh shared his view that in his over 30 years in Bluff often the silent majority will not turn out to meetings. Tumeh presented a petition with 67-signatures of land owners in Bluff, with none of the signers being his employees.
Tumeh also shared that he felt he was experiencing deja vu as 27 years ago a proposal to build five cabins behind the Jens Nielson house was opposed.
“Cindy and I built a world-class resort right there. I hope the mayor and council will do the right decision and come up with a win-win solution. Because that’s the only way this can work out.”
Tumeh shared that the proposed tour company does not want to fly over town, with a flight path planned over the river or coming over the bluff from the south side.
Tumeh added that if the town kicks him out like they did 27 years ago from the sewer district he’d take his air tours to Blanding.
Among those speaking in favor of an ordinance limiting or restricting aviation traffic in the town of Bluff was resident Ann Brown. Brown shared that in 2010 she lived in the community of Rockville, Utah where her late husband was the Mayor. Brown says the town near Zion National Park experienced a similar conversation a little over 10 years ago. Brown said she spoke with the Federal Aviation Administration and noted that Zion National Park, and neighbors Springdale and Rockville, had placed a no-fly zone overhead.
Brown shared she did not want any type of aviation flying over Bluff.
“We have an airport outside of town with a lovely asphalt strip and a great deal of possibilities there for future aviation. Much like Moab has their helicopter operations out of their airport north of town it seems like we could do something like that.”
Others opposed to zoning allowing flights over Bluff expressed concerns for noise and view-shed pollution, changing of the town’s character, and dangers of multiple flights. 
Those in favor of commercial flights spoke of the business impacts including tax revenue, promotion of tourism, and the continuation of multiple aviation use such as medical flights and hot air balloons. The planning and zoning committee received comments through June 1 and will consider all comments received. At their June 7 meeting, the planning and zoning committee may move forward with a recommendation to the town council on if the town should adopt an ordinance limiting or restricting aviation traffic within town boundaries.

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