David Johnson’s reaction to a helicopter landing in his neighborhood was a mixture of profanity and incredulity.

“My first reaction was, get the h…, get outta here! … Unbelievable!”

A Gert Town resident his whole life, Johnson dwells next door to an increasingly

A wind sock marks the site of a helicopter landing pad in a Gert Town block that is zoned for residential use.

vacant lot that takes up the 4200 block of Clio Street almost in its entirety. Houses once stood there, but over the years the properties had been bought and demolished by the current owner, Jonas Johnson, no relation to David.

Seven months ago, neighbors began seeing — and hearing — a helicopter flying to and from the cleared lots, sometimes twice a day.

In August, David Johnson took his concerns to his City Councilwoman, Stacy Head. Her chief of staff, Jason Abate, researched the issue and, in e-mails from Edward Horan, the Zoning Administrator in the Department of Safety and Permits, was told that the property is zoned LI-Light Industrial.

“Surprisingly, a heliport or helistop is permitted in this district,” Horan wrote. Not only permitted, but under no restrictions by the Federal Aviation Administration, as it turns out.

To Johnson’s relief, it turns out Horan was wrong. Since 2004, the tract actually has been zoned RD-2, a designation limited to two-family residences – not heliports.

Safety and Permits chief Paul May blamed Horan’s mistake on use of an old map, dating to the days when the property was, in fact, zoned light industrial.

May said his department will be checking out the situation and issuing a notice of violation. Mayoral spokesman Ryan Berni confirmed that the city would be issuing such a notice.

Jonas Johnson was not at home and did not return calls.

Unexpectedly, if the heliport were legal, the FAA would still yield to local regulators, according to Lynn Lunsford, a spokesperson for the federal agency. “This is affected more by local ordinance than it is by FAA regulations,” Lunsford said.

“Just because a helicopter makes noise… doesn’t mean it’s doing anything against FAA regulations,” Lunsford said. What the FAA focuses on is “safe operation of an aircraft,” Lunsford added.

David Johnson and his neighbors wonder how a residential neighborhood could be deemed safe for helicopter landings, especially given a maze of high-tension wires overhead.

Said Johnson: “It’s not that I want to rain on anyone’s parade or take anybody’s toys, because I believe in toys myself, but at the same time I think it’s an issue of being somewhat dangerous and, you know, noisy … “

Karen Gadbois

Karen Gadbois co-founded The Lens. She now covers New Orleans government issues and writes about land use. With television reporter Lee Zurik she exposed widespread misuse of city recovery funds and led...