Board of Supervisors Denies Helipad Appeal

By Kelly Mahan Herrick   |   July 9, 2020

At a hearing on Tuesday, July 7, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors denied Summerland resident Pat Nesbitt’s appeal to obtain a Conditional Use Permit for a private helicopter pad on his 20-acre property located on Via Real. The appeal was denied with a 3-2 vote.

Over a dozen nearby residents and neighbors spoke out against the project at Tuesday’s hearing, joining a long list of nearly 200 residents and groups who have opposed the project, citing incompatibility with the surrounding residential neighborhoods. Groups in opposition to the project include the Carpinteria Valley Association, Padaro Lane Association, Summerland Citizens Association, Montecito Association, Montecito Trails Foundation, Citizen’s Planning Association, and others.

The project came about last summer, when Nesbitt, who has admitted that he’s flown helicopters onto and from his property for over two decades without permission, originally sought a CUP for a helistop with two landing zones to be used for personal use and emergency services. A more modest project was in front of the Santa Barbara County Planning Commission in September, which included just one pad in the center of his property. The permit would limit the personal use of the helistop to a maximum of two times per week between the hours of 7 am and 7 pm – which was originally proposed as 9 pm – and per the staff report, his helicopters will take the ocean route as opposed to the mountain route in order to avoid any potential disturbance to nearby residences. Frequency of use of the pad for emergency services would be on an as-needed basis, according to the staff report.

Opponents to the project have voiced concern over the helipad’s close proximity to residential homes, nearby horse and bicycle trails, and a nearby environmentally sensitive habitat. Nesbitt argues that there are hundreds of helicopter flights over the area each year, and his request to add two flights per week would not significantly disturb the peace and quiet of the neighborhood. “Helicopters flying to and from my property do not fly over Santa Barbara residents,” he said, insisting that his helicopter flies 1/4-mile off shore. County counsel on Tuesday reiterated to the Board that despite Nesbitt’s promise to use a flight path over the ocean, flight pattern regulation and airport noise are in the jurisdiction of the FAA, and not enforceable by the County.

The Santa Barbara County Planning Commission, at a subsequent hearing in November, cited inconsistency with the Summerland Community Plan and the Comprehensive Plan as reasons for denial, due to the loud, percussive nature of noise caused by helicopter take offs and landings. The Commission also noted the noise caused by helicopters would be detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood, adjacent trails, and nearby monarch butterfly roosting habitats.

“This is for the convenience of one individual, on one property, that is listed for sale,” said attorney Marc Chytilo, representing two groups in opposition to the permit. Nesbitt’s property, which includes a 43,000-sq-ft home with 11 bedrooms and 22 bathrooms, is currently listed for sale for $55 million. Nesbitt said he plans on building another house next door, and maintaining the rights to the helipad should the property sell.

The appeal was denied with a 3-2 vote, with Fourth District Supervisor Peter Adam and Fifth District Supervisor Steve Lavagnino dissenting. Supervisor Adam called the opposition to the project a “First World problem,” and said it would be very unreasonable to deny the project. Supervisor Lavagnino agreed, saying, “The public comments seem disconnected to what the project is. I can’t imagine it can be more than a couple of minutes worth of intrusion into someone’s life a couple of times a week. You know, sometimes that’s what living in society is,” he said. “It almost feels like [Nesbitt is being] penalized because he can afford to do it.”

Supervisors Das Williams, Gregg Hart, and Joan Hartmann voted in favor of denial of the appeal, citing incompatibility with the surrounding area. “The only way it’s compatible is if the flight path is binding, and we can’t enforce that binding,” said First District Supervisor Williams, adding that he sympathizes with Nesbitt and appreciates that he stepped up to apply for a permit, while many other neighbors land helicopters without permission. Supervisors Hart and Hartmann both agreed the project would set a bad precedent. “Santa Barbara Airport is twenty minutes away. It’s agricultural land, but not an agricultural helicopter,” Supervisor Hartmann said.

“I don’t think it’s in the best interest of the community at large,” Supervisor Hart said.


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