Multimillionaire hotelier and polo padrone Patrick Nesbitt’s recent permit application for a private-property helicopter landing site has sparked fury among some of his Montecito-area neighbors. Nesbitt claims that helicopters have been taking off and landing on his $65 million Lambert Road property unpermitted for 25 years with no issues until two years ago.
Although Nesbitt was out of the country and unable to be interviewed by press time, he said in a letter to the Padaro Lane Association that he was legally able to fly from his property without a permit because permits for helistops — which the Federal Aviation Administration defines as formalized helicopter landing areas without fueling or support facilities — are “not required on agriculturally zoned property” such as his. But the county says otherwise.
“Historically, a lot of helicopters have been landing in the area for years,” said Rey Harmon, the South County planner overseeing Nesbitt’s permit application. “None of the helicopters have permits, though, so they are all in violation.” Harmon said she is still researching exactly how long the conditional-use permit has been required, but she confirmed that it’s been required for “at least a decade.” Harmon said Nesbitt’s helicopter was red-tagged — meaning he will be fined if it is spotted taking off or landing in the area — two years ago after the county received a complaint about his helicopter flying too close to homes, which led him to seek a permit.
On June 26, county planning commissioners were prepared to hear Nesbitt’s permit proposal and potentially approve it until more than 170 letters from the public came in on the matter — most in opposition to it — prompting Nesbitt to ask commissioners to delay the hearing until he could personally address the concerns with neighbors.
“It is not fair to allow someone with significant financial means to obtain a convenience for a few people, at the vast majority of the affected public’s expense,” said neighboring residents Valerie Hoffman and Ron Noe in a letter to the commissioners. Their sentiments about the loud noise and disruption caused by helicopters were largely echoed in many of the comments and letters opposing the helistop.
Nesbitt saw the noise issue differently, though. “These homes are bordered by Highway 101 with over 100,000 cars and trucks passing by every day, to say nothing of the 10-12 trains creating over 110 dB of noise at grade within a couple hundred feet of every home on Padaro Lane,” Nesbitt argued in his letter. “Beautiful and exclusive, yes, but ‘peace and rural ambience’ not so much.”
Nesbitt also said his helistops would be beneficial to the community in case of emergencies like the recent Thomas Fire and subsequent debris flow. He proposes two separate landing zones on his property — one for personal use up to two times a week and another for emergency personnel to use as needed. “Many of our neighbors were taken to emergency hospitals in Ventura County and as far as L.A. in helicopters [during the 1/9 Debris Flow] operating off of my property and will again if there is a recurrence of that situation,” Nesbitt said.
Harmon said emergency personnel are the only ones who don’t require permits for landing on private properties, though. When first responders used Nesbitt’s property at the time of the debris flow, they did not have a permit, nor did they need one. In his letter to Kaye Walters, communications director of the Padaro Lane Association, Nesbitt asked, “How about the hundreds of our neighbors north of 101 who had to be evacuated during the recent Thomas Fire/Flood event? … It seems in your mind those people don’t count as long as you are safe.”
Walters said with an airport just 15 minutes away, it wouldn’t be inconvenient for Nesbitt and others to land their helicopters there and then commute by car to their residences. “Once you allow one, you open the Pandora’s box,” Walters said. Nesbitt claimed at the June 26 hearing that there was a total of 11 helicopters landing on private residences in the area, although the county was unable to substantiate the claim.
The delayed hearing is set for September 25. Harmon said any residents who spot helicopters landing in the meantime should call the county’s zoning enforcement line at (805) 568-3558 and try to obtain footage of the helicopter to help verify the complaint.