Time saves lives
The Storm Lake Planning and Zoning Commission Monday night - while expressing strong reservations - approved a conditional use permit for a helipad at the Buena Vista Regional Medical Center.
Chair Joe Galey had some strong words for both sides before the final vote was cast. He noted that it was not Planning and Zoning's role to say what was medically appropriate but what was for the good of the neighbors and the city. He said it was necessary to look at what was best for the most people and that a helipad was an appropriate use for the hospital property.
"I am ashamed of both the neighbors and the hospital for not talking to each other," Galey said. "My God, this is Storm Lake, Iowa, not New York."
Galey referred to a meeting a year ago last summer when the hospital requested a rezoning to build a parking lot. "I knew the hospital at that time was not pursuing a helipad," Neuroth said. "They are here tonight pursuing a helipad."
Commissioner Dick Keen looked at safety too, but his feelings were mixed.
"You take what's good for the many versus the few," Keen said. "Safety is a big issue for me. I do not like this location. I'd love to say yes, let's put the helipad right here."
Several neighbors objected to the hospital's proposal to placing the helipad in the location the hospital had requested, saying that a rooftop site, a location off the hospital campus, or another location on hospital property might be preferable. Some of the strongest objections, and to which the commissioner seemed to bend a strong ear, was made by Keith Schmidt of 1620 W. Sixth St.
Schmidt said the hospital put in a fence so poorly that the helicopter blew it down during a test landing.
Schmidt said a hospital employee called him and asked whether he would support the helipad and when Schmidt said no, Schmidt said the employee told him, "I hope you never need a helicopter again."
Some of the strongest testimony in favor of the helipad came from Dr. Paul Barber, acting chief of medicine at BVRMC. As a medic on a helicopter in Vietnam, Barber offered expertise from both a medical and a flight perspective.
"This is the only hospital I've been in that didn't have a helipad on site," Dr. Barber said. "Are we going to try to be at the same level of any other hospital in this state or the civilized world."
Saying the safety records for helicopters was "extra-ordinary", Dr. Barber said "each second becomes very important. Those 10 minutes, those 15 minutes are extremely important. I think it's ludicrous that we're having his discussion over a few shrubs."
Commissioner Steve Neuroth objected strongly to neighboring residents having to put fences on their own property to screen sound from the helicopter, saying that should be the hospital's responsibility.
"I think the hospital really, truly needs to take care of your kids, your roof, your noise," Neuroth said. Focusing his attention on neighbors of the area, said Neuroth, "I can see why you people are bent."
Neuroth moved that the Commission approve the hospital's application, but that the Board of Adjustment take neighborhood concerns into consideration.
Approval was not unanimous. Galey voted against recommending approval to the city Board of Adjustment, saying after the meeting that he did not want the vote to be unanimous. "I wanted it understood that it is important for them to work with the people of the community," Galey said.