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City Plan Commission Approves Controversial Bridgeport Helipad Plan

By Chuck Sudo in News on Mar 21, 2014 3:30PM

A rendering of the proposed helipad to be built along the South branch of the Chicago River in Bridgeport. (Image courtesy of Chicago Helicopter Express)

A plan to build a helipad near a portion of the Chicago River separating Bridgeport and Pilsen that has seen significant resistance by residents of those neighborhoods was unanimously approved by the Chicago Plan Commission Thursday. The proposed helipad by Wheeling-based Chicago Helicopter Express would rest on a 4.6 acre site at 24th and Halsted Streets, offer helicopter tours from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m. serve as a landing and launching pad for charter and privately-owned helicopters and include an observation deck and water taxi dock.

But the plan has been criticized by residents living near the site for the obvious noise issues that would arise from the facility. Ald. Danny Solis (25th) pulled his support for the plan earlier and public meetings on the helipad were attended by concerned homeowners who weren’t happy with the answers they received by proponents of the project. The Plan Commission deferred a zoning change for the helipad site last month so that more meetings on the matter could be held. Friends of the Chicago River has also expressed its opposition to the helipad proposal.

But the plan still has the backing of influential politicians and business interest like Ald. James Balcer (11th), Redmoon Theatre and the 18th Street Development Corporation. Chicago Helipad Express has fired back at opponents and set their sights on Grant Crowley, a businessman who sits on Friends of the Chicago River’s board of directors. Chicago Helicopter Express spokesman Eric Herman told Chicagoist Crowley owns a 10-acre site immediately west of the proposed heliport and wants to develop it himself, a purported conflict of interest neither Crowley nor Friends of the Chicago River disclosed in their correspondence with the Plan Commission. Crowley denied any conflicts of interest in several articles on the heliport published by DNAInfo Chicago.

The Plan Commission’s approval of the proposal makes the objections of residents moot, anyway. Area resident Jill Salinas told the Sun-Times:

“It is hard for us as residents to believe that, given the inherent nature of helicopter operations and the impact of prevailing winds on flights paths that the helicopters will, under no circumstances, be flown over homes and businesses.”

Chicago Helicopter Express insists they’ll limit their operations to 15 daily tours during operating hours but the hangars will operate from 5:30 a.m. until midnight daily. Residents are concerned Chicago Helicopter Express would schedule up to 125 flights a day, many of them happening over homes. Chicago Helicopter Express CEO Trevor Heffernan said there’s already enough noise pollution from nearby expressway traffic, the CTA Orange Line and freight rail that the tours would have “zero impact” on residents’ everyday lives, and has promised to use low-noise helicopters, build sound barrier walls and follow a flight path to Lake Michigan for the tours that would fly high above the Stevenson expressway. Balcer concurred the helicopters would add little in the way of noise while touting it as a jobs creator for the community.

“It means jobs. It means economic growth. It means no TIF money will be used. TIF money will be put in. Fifty or more direct jobs at all level skills will be brought in. Increased revenue for local business. New business and growth in the community, which also creates jobs and revenue. Increased property values,” the alderman said.