Bluff Town Council tackles a series of community issues, including air and sky
By David Boyle
The Town of Bluff has been busy the past few weeks enacting an aviation facility moratorium, receiving reports from the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and creating a committee for a Dark Sky designation.
At an April 14 special meeting, members of the Bluff Town Council 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 resolution notes that there may be an interest in developing commercial helicopter pads and providing helicopter tours from facilities within the town.
The resolution comes as plans are in motion by Desert Rose Inn to construct a helipad and run tours from 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.
At the special meeting of the council, Desert Rose Inn owner Amer Tumeh shared that the plan to build a helipad is not something that he has taken on lightly.
Tumeh shared that on January 4, he applied for and received a business license for Desert Rose Tours, which includes helicopters. Tumeh also contacted the town Planning and Zoning Committee to make sure there is not a permit required to demolish a building and backfill the hole.
Tumeh also said as a courtesy he told the Planning and Zoning that he is planing to apply for a land use permit once the project is ready.
Five town residents spoke in favor of the moratorium, including Josh Ewing, who said he was a proponent of incorporation for the town for conversations like these.
“My recommendation and encouragement is to think long and hard before having policies that promote frequent aviation over a small town when most of us live here for peace and quiet, especially when we invest and put a lot of energy into having an airport which would be a more appropriate place for this activity.”
At the meeting, Tumeh shared that the proximity of hotel guests to the helipad makes him extra sensitive to the noise issue.
“We want to continue to be a good neighbor... The flight plan would be over the river coming in where we would not fly over anybody’s house. We want to fly friendly because we want to be there for a long time.”
Bluff Airport Manager Jim Hook also weighed in on the proposal noting that he found it interesting.
“I can see a possible potential for a business to work that way, I could see it couldn’t work. As far as the helicopter, if there is one doing daily flights that’s not likely. I was a tour guide here for 10-15 years, daily tours don’t happen. If there were to be a heliport in Bluff, that might be the best place to do it in town so it doesn’t have to come over businesses and houses in town.
“Not saying I’m typically in support of that but I do see that some towns have allowed this, some towns have not.”
The council unanimously approved the resolution to place a moratorium on the development, construction, or operation of new aviation facilities within the town. The council now has 180 days to consider the creation of a new ordinance, the council can also choose to repeal the moratorium before the six-month period is up.
The Planning & Zoning Commission will host an Aviation Ordinance Hearing, on May 22 at 6 p.m.
At their May 2 meeting, members of the Bluff Town Council also reviewed a letter from SITLA regarding a special use lease agreement titled Bluff Dwellings Resort Expansion.
SITLA sent the letter as a courtesy to the Town of Bluff to make them aware of a proposed lease. The town’s drafted response is to note the town water rights near the location, and that if the applicant proposes commercial development, the town would like involvement including zoning ordinances considered with a request for workforce housing included in the plan.
Council members did note that SITLA does not need to comply with town zoning, but felt it was important to make their interests heard in response to the organization’s courtesy letter.
The town is also busy with other projects, including the creation of a Committee for International Dark Sky Designation.
The volunteer committee will coordinate the application process through the International Dark Sky Association and evaluate additional work to be completed, including compiling documents and advising the town council through the process.
The committee work is scheduled to be finalized in the near future.
The council is also working on a remodel of the Bluff Community Center.
The town has downsized the project to exclusively use American Rescue Plan Act funds for an American with Disabilities Act-compliant upgrade to the restroom and water fountain as well as setting up the food pantry.