By KATE REARDON
EVERETT — A whirling debate over whether a food company should be able to build a helipad in southwest Everett has come down to an argument over a 10-minute drive vs. a matter of convenience.
The city council could decide as early as Dec. 13 whether to approve a permit that would allow Food Services of America to build and operate a helipad within the company’s parking area at 1001 Shuksan Way.
The city council meets that day at 8:30 a.m. in council chambers, 3002 Wetmore Ave.
Food Services of America flies a helicopter to transport company officials and employees among its locations in the Puget Sound region.
For six months, the company has landed its helicopter at Paine Field and made the five- to 10-minute drive to its new 200,000-square-foot building in Everett.
Several neighbors challenge the proposal, arguing that the helipad will affect their quality of life. Noise studies commissioned by the company have indicated no significant impact to people living in the area.
Neighbors have said that Food Services of America should continue landing at Paine Field because it’s so close. But point-to-point flights would save time and money, company officials said.
When the wholesale food company looked at locating in Everett, freeway access for its trucks and proximity to the urban core played important roles, said Lincoln Ferris, vice president of community relations for Services Group of America, the parent company.
In addition, zoning and the likelihood of building the helipad also came in to play, although the city never promised a helipad would be approved, he said.
The city council has put off the vote twice because council members have been absent. On Monday, Ron Gipson was absent, and Frank Anderson removed himself from the discussion because he lives in the vicinity.
Food Services of America owns about 32 acres at the site formally used for sand and gravel operations.
The city requires a special-use permit for helipads so leaders can give those proposals more extensive review.
Food Services of America recently built the Everett facility to complement its operations in Kent. One management staff leads both operations, which can mean a two-hour ride on crowded freeways, Ferris said.
The flight pattern to and from the Everett location avoids residential areas and does not interfere with flight patterns at Paine Field. Snohomish County PUD and the Boeing Co. also have helipads in the area.
Food Services of America has provided hundreds of new jobs in Everett with the first 200,000 square feet of a 475,000-square-foot office and warehouse.
The proposed helipad would be about six football fields — 1,900 feet — away from the closest residentially zoned area. The company would be limited to a maximum of six round trips per weekday but expects to make an average of only two.
The planning commission has recommended that the hours be limited to 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Flights on Saturday would be limited to 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. with no flights on Sundays.
In 1995, when Seattle denied a helipad request by the company, the firm fought all the way to the state Supreme Court before losing in a 1999 ruling.
Ferris said he would not speculate whether the company would challenge in court a similar denial in Everett.
Council member Bob Overstreet would not speculate on a possible lawsuit and said he would never make a decision based on what someone may do in court.
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