In a 3-2 vote, the Willow Park city council denied a request from resident and retired U.S. Army Sgt. Dana Bowman to install a helipad on his property on Spanish Oak Road.
The request was first brought up during the January city council meeting, when the item was tabled until neighbors surrounding Bowman’s property could be notified.
“He had requested permission from us to land and transport Wounded Warriors and other veteran groups to his property. Right now he’s using the Parker County Airport. We met with him in December and he mentioned it was only going to happen no more than 12 times a year and I thought that was pretty high,” WP City Manager Bryan Grimes said at the January meeting. “Our recommendation, because we really don’t have anything on point with this, is to do a special permit and do it for a six-month period to see how this would operate and work and if it would impact neighbors negatively.”
Bowman — a double amputee who was a Special Forces soldier and member of the U.S. Army’s elite parachute team — is the founder and director of the nonprofit organization HALO for Freedom Warrior Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to provide support for Wounded Warriors during their rehabilitation, reintegration and healing process, according to the organization’s website.
At Tuesday’s meeting, following the notification of neighbors, several spoke out against Bowman installing a helipad on his 10-acre property, with three residents sending in letters in favor.
“My concerns are the noise levels of take-offs and landings, and the safety issue I’m concerned about are whether or not the pilots that are going to be flying these helicopters are commercial pilots or are they private pilots. If they’re private pilots, according to the state of Texas, they are not required to carry insurance, which is a big concern for me and the possibility, heaven forbid, of an accident,” WP resident Sally Stanley, who lives across the street from Bowman’s property, said. “I’m also wondering if putting a helipad across the street from my house is going to affect my resale value. If there’s an airport not too far from here, why does he need a pad on his property to land a helicopter. I understand he wants it for his foundation, but why can’t the helicopters land at the airport? If he is granted this, he has a friend who is a pilot that has nothing to do with this foundation and what is to stop this person or any other person to land on his property?”
Resident Richard Davis, who has lived on Ranch House Road since 1994, was also against the helipad installation.
“My property is adjacent to it, they have to fly over, which they continually do all the time, I don’t think that it’s wise to have this type of facility in a residential area,” Davis said. “We have the Parker County Airport, the hospital has a helipad — I don’t think that can be used for commercial — but we just don’t need it in that residential area. I don’t like the noise factor.”
WP Mayor Doyle Moss read letters from those who could not attend the meeting — some were in favor and others against the motion.
One letter read aloud was from resident Jerry Miller, who was against the helipad.
“I live approximately one-half-mile west and across the field from the site of the proposed helipad. While I have no problem with helicopters and Wounded Warriors — my father and brother spent over 60 years collectively at Bell Helicopter — I do have a problem with them destroying the peace and quiet I built here for them, not to mention the stress it would put on pets and wildlife,” according to Miller’s letter. “With all due respect to Wounded Warriors, I assume they can still reach Spanish [Oak Road] by car like the rest of us. While I’m sure it’s a noble cause, it shouldn’t be at the expense of neighbors’ peace and the fact that there’s an airport three miles away only casts skepticism on Mr. Bowman’s motive. I say no.”
The city received 13 other letters against the motion and three letters in favor.
Parker County Sheriff Larry Fowler sent in a letter in favor of Bowman’s request.
“I would like to take this opportunity to provide my support to the city of Willow Park in granting special permission for Sgt. Dana Bowman to land his helicopter on personal property within the city of Willow Park,” according to Fowler’s letter. “Sgt. Bowman is a valuable asset to our local law enforcement and has offered air support when needed. Because of this, I believe allowing Sgt. Bowman will be beneficial to the community.”
Another letter ready was written by Jim Frank.
“All pilots are highly experienced and qualified. As I’m reading the concerns of Willow Park residents on NextDoor.com, it appears these concerns are being overblown. I would like to address these concerns and add additional facts to ease the neighborhood worries,” according to Frank’s letter. “First, there are no military helicopters using the stop as portrayed in the pictures. There are no training, no scheduled flights, no large aircrafts, no flying in low clouds or fog. The stop will be used rarely and only in normal daylight hours. The aircraft in question is classified as light helicopters, this ensures no aircraft over 3,800 pounds, generally six-passenger or less.”
Resident Frank Andrews was also in favor of Bowman’s request in his letter, stating, “I’m OK with Dana Bowman to temporarily operate a heli-stop.”
The city put together an ordinance, but council members listed several amendments that needed to be made to the document, including flying during daylight hours only, one flight per month and being able to revoke the decision at any point, among other recommendations.
“I’m not seeing a compelling reason that’s been spelled out,” WP Place 3 Councilmember Greg Runnebaum said. “We have an airport nearby and so I don’t get it.”
WP Place 5 Councilmember Gary McKaughan said he’s a firm believer in property rights.
“I’m a pilot myself and I’ve already explained to my neighbor that if I had a helicopter I’d park it in my backyard too. I’m a firm believer in property rights and everybody has an opportunity to use their property as they see fit, with the exception of noise and something dangerous,” McKaughan said. “There are specific areas that are a concern to me. First of all, if we do this, it’s gotta be Visual Flight Rules, it should say daylight hours and I would like to hear from Mr. Bowman himself on the number of operations he’s expecting. If we’re talking once a month, that may be doable, but if we’re talking six times a day that’s different.”
Place 2 Councilmember Amy Fennell said she didn’t see how this would be beneficial to the entire city.
“Whenever we’ve passed things in the past that haven’t been popular with the immediate neighbors, it’s been something that’s benefited the 5,000 in the city, which is why I asked city staff what the benefit would be to the rest of the citizens,” Fennell said. “There are too many holes.”
Place 1 Councilmember Eric Contreras said he doesn’t think the type of helicopter Bowman would be flying would be extreme from a noise standpoint.
“I asked our city manager to see how many residents have called complaining about noise in regards to the helicopters and airplanes that fly from Carswell [Air Force Base in Fort Worth] — they’re all day and sometimes at night. I had two extremely large helicopters fly over my house, shook my house, it is what it is,” Contreras said. “I support our military, bottom line, I support our military, so they’re going to do what they’re going to do. I don’t see as far as the decibels that this type of helicopter that Mr. Bowman has is going to create such a noise that is more extreme than what’s been flying in and out of Carswell.”
Ultimately, the council took action and denied Bowman’s request — Fennell, Runnebaum and Place 4 Councilmember Lea Young voted against and Contreras and McKaughan voted in favor.