To the disappointment of Panther Ridge residents who fought the establishment of a helistop at The Concession Golf Club for nearly two years, Manatee County Commissioners voted 5-1 on Thursday to approve helicopter landings in the high-end community.
Commissioner Robin DiSabatino cast the only dissenting vote.
“I just don’t think this is compatible. It’s not a normal and customary use,” DiSabatino said. “It’s the unintended consequences that always come back and bite you in the butt.”
Panther Ridge residents said the flights would spook horses in their community, presenting a danger to riders and horses alike.
Commissioner Vanessa Baugh, who joined with commissioners Carol Whitmore, Betsy Benac, Priscilla Trace Whisenant and Stephen Jonsson to approve the helistop, said the vote was agonizing.
“I don’t like it when we are divided and can’t come to an agreement,” Baugh said, but added she did not necessarily think that occasional helicopter flights would disrupt the lives of horses.
Charles Smith, the District 2 commissioner, did not attend Thursday’s land use meeting.
Ten residents from Panther Ridge spoke against the helistop, while four other people spoke in favor of it.
After the vote, Daniella Drillman and several other Panther Ridge residents wearing “Stop the Helistop” tags huddled in the foyer outside the commission chambers.
Drillman admitted to being surprised by the vote.
“We will have to see what our options are with the Federal Aviation Administration and Florida Department of Transportation,” Drillman said.
While the county has signed off on the helistop, final approval rests with the FAA.
The helistop would serve an average of two daytime helicopter landings and departures a month for the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course, attorney Ed Vogler told commissioners.
The helistop would be strictly a landing pad with no fueling facilities or other amenities, Vogler said.
Stephanie Moreland, principal planner for Manatee County, reported that planning staff and the Manatee County Planning Commission have both recommended approval for the helistop.
Negative factors, however, include new development in the area, including Lakewood Ranch’s Country Club East, Lakewood National and the Del Webb communities.
The Florida Department of Transportation issued a cease-and-desist order in May to immediately stop all air operations into or out of The Concession for “failure to comply with state and federal statutes and regulations regarding the establishment and operation of a helistop/airport.”
Vogler opened his presentation Thursday by saying there have been no more flights at The Concession since the FDOT order.
Vogler argued for approval of the helistop, citing negligible noise and an average of only two flights per month.
The area is no stranger to helicopter flights, he said, citing as an example mosquito control spraying operations.
Cindy and Ronnie Bray were two of the Panther Ridge residents who spoke against the helistop.
“It is a very dangerous accident waiting to happen,” Cindy Bray said. “Everyone should feel safe and at peace where they live.”
Ronnie Bray admitted to being an avid golfer and admirer of The Concession.
“I pray they get the U.S. Open. I don’t pray for the helistop,” he said.