Three months ago, multimillionaire hotelier Patrick Nesbitt requested the County Planning Commission delay its hearing for his helicopter landing pad permit after 1st District Commissioner Michael Cooney said his inbox was “overflowing with letters of opposition.” Nesbitt has since pulled out all the stops to quell his critics — even extending one-on-one invites to discuss concerns with each opponent he could identify.
“People keep saying that my permit will set a precedent for more helicopters, but it will actually do the opposite,” Nesbitt said. “I am setting a precedent for following procedure. Because my property is so unique, hardly anyone else will be able to obtain a permit if they go through the same procedures.”
The new hearing, set for September 25, will determine if Nesbitt is granted a helistop permit — which the Federal Aviation Administration defines as formalized helicopter landing areas without fueling or support facilities. Although residents complain about helicopters flying over Montecito and Summerland regularly, no permitted landing pads exist in the area. If Nesbitt’s request is approved, he will be the first to legally land and take off from his property off Lambert Road.
“There are at least 10 other spots in close proximity where other helicopters are landing,” Nesbitt claimed. Nesbitt admitted he’d landed and taken off from his property for decades before the county told him it was illegal two years ago. Because his property is agriculturally zoned, he believed it was legal. In fact, agriculturally zoned properties are exempt from the permit requirements, except if those properties are in a coastal zone, which Nesbitt’s is.
Nesbitt said he’s stopped the at-home landings, with the exception of first responders flying from his property during the Thomas Fire and subsequent 1/9 Debris Flow. His proposal includes a second landing pad on his property to give first responders unlimited access during emergencies. Although emergency personnel are the only ones who don’t require permits for landing on private properties, local law enforcement and fire chiefs support Nesbitt’s permit.
“During the firefighting, rescue, and relief efforts, helicopters made frequent use of Mr. Pat Nesbitt’s polo fields for both landings and takeoffs in support of public safety operations,” the letter from first responders read. “The availability of a helicopter landing zone in close proximity to disaster areas was instrumental in efforts to save or assist victims or protect properties … We greatly support Mr. Nesbitt’s request to establish a helistop on his property.” The letter was signed by Sheriff Bill Brown, Police Chief Lori Luhnow, Montecito Fire Department Chief Chip Hickman, Carpinteria/Summerland Fire Chief Greg Fish, County Fire Chief Michael Dyer, and Santa Barbara Fire Chief Eric Nickel.
Though Nesbitt reached out to anyone he could contact of the more than 175 people who wrote in letters of opposition, only one person got back to him. He also spoke to the Summerland Citizens Association, which voted against taking a stand for or against his helipad, though Nesbitt said they were “hostile” when he initially walked in and the majority were “in support” by the time he left. His meeting with the Montecito Association, however, was unsuccessful and they still don’t support him. The Padaro Lane Association, the only street that his proposed flight path flies over, would not agree to meet at all.
“The point is, nobody in Montecito will ever actually see or hear my helicopter,” Nesbitt said of his flight path. “People in Summerland might see it, but they definitely won’t hear it. Padaro Lane residents are the only people who are really affected, but even then it’s a half mile away from the nearest house when it cuts over [Padaro Lane].”
The majority of his proposed path goes over the ocean rather than the mountains, 500 feet from the shore at its two closest points. He said he also flies at least 500 feet in the air when cutting over Padaro Lane to his residence, a distance at which he says the noise is “virtually nonexistent.” To prove it before the hearing, he hired Christ Kirikian, the director of air quality and acoustics at Meridian Consultants, to do a noise study on his helicopter landing and takeoff.
“The supplemental noise assessment analyzed both helicopter approach and departure,” the study reads. It cited 65 dBA (a weighted measurement of decibels of relative loudness) as the maximum sound level before it could be heard by neighbors. “Based on the 3D modeling results, noise levels would be within the exterior noise standard of 65 dBA CNEL [community noise equivalent level] for the surrounding residential uses.” If he stays within his designated flight path, Kirikian said, he shouldn’t cause any disruptions to neighbors.
Ultimately, Nesbitt said he feels most of his opponents are jealous.
“If you pay attention to the tone of most of the letters, you can sense a twinge of jealousy because I’m rich,” Nesbitt said. “When I came to college, I had $35 in my pocket, and I chose not to live that way. That shouldn’t be a reason to not grant the permit.”