A hearing on a proposed helicopter landing pad at an IBM research center in southern Yorktown, near the New Castle border, drew criticism of noise generated by a variety of helicopters but little other comment.
The Yorktown Planning Board closed the hearing after three residents spoke at a recent meeting, but will accept additional comments during the next 10 days as part of its consideration of the proposal, which includes a renewable special permit, said John Flynn, acting board chairman.
IBM wants to build the pad, which it describes as a helistop, near the main entrance to the Thomas J. Watson Research Center. The pad would be used only for landing and takeoff, not storage, said Bob DeAngelis, senior manager of facilities, engineering, environmental and safety for IBM Yorktown.
DeAngelis, who led a team of IBM presenters, said the pad would serve one, possibly two, flights a month, usually between Monday and Friday during normal business hours. The pad, about 100 feet in diameter, would be near the center of the Watson site to reduce its impact on neighbors. Helicopters would approach and depart from/to the north and west, avoiding more heavily populated areas to the south and east.
Noise studies at four test locations around the area measured peak volume in the low-70-decibel range, which the IBM team described as equivalent to the noise level next to a dishwasher or in an average business office. Traffic noise from the nearby Taconic State Parkway exceeded that from a helicopter test flight.
Test flights were conducted at altitudes of 1,500 and 2,000 feet. Steep, more direct descents to the site would help minimize noise impact, the IBM team explained. To read more about the IBM studies, please click here, scroll down to “IBM Helipad” and click on the “supporting documents.”
Residents of Kitchawan Road and Pinesbridge Road complained of noisy non-IBM helicopter flights over the area, which are not only annoying but sometimes rattle windows and other parts of their homes. The IBM team responded that its pilots do not fly as low as some other helicopters and that the corporation practices the Fly Neighborly Program developed by the Helicopter Association International, which seeks to reduce noise through a combination of culture and pilot technique. Not all pilots comply with the voluntary noise reduction program and some, including police, fly at very low altitudes.
IBM has not landed a helicopter at the research center in years, team members said, and the old landing site has become soft and overgrown with trees. The proposed pad would be constructed of Grasspave2, a combination of structural mesh and fill covered with turf, and would look like a normal lawn, DeAngelis said. No trees would have to be removed, and an abandoned well would be rejuvenated to irrigate the pad.
Lights at the pad would be used only when a helicopter was arriving or departing and would shine straight up, he said.
In response to a comment about the proximity of Westchester County Airport, the IBM team replied that, depending on traffic, travel time from the Harrison airfield to Watson can range from 38 minutes to an hour or more and that the time of the key people who would use the pad was worth more than the cost of building it.