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Saturday, April 4, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane County man ordered to cease flying helicopter in neighborhood

UPDATED: Fri., March 20, 2020

A judge has ordered a man in the Painted Hills neighborhood south of Spokane Valley to cease and desist flight operations at his backyard heliport, which is named Birdhouse. (Courtesy photo)
A judge has ordered a man in the Painted Hills neighborhood south of Spokane Valley to cease and desist flight operations at his backyard heliport, which is named Birdhouse. (Courtesy photo)

Spokane County has ordered a resident of the Painted Hills neighborhood to stop flying his helicopter and shut down his helipad, a decision sought by several of his neighbors.

Neighbors say Jim Charbonneau has had an active helipad in the forested Painted Hills neighborhood, just south of Spokane Valley, for about two years. Many have contacted the county and reported the activity, saying a crash or malfunction could put their homes in danger of fire or worse. They also have complained about the noise.

Last week a Superior Court judge ordered Charbonneau to cease and desist flight operations at his heliport, which is named Birdhouse. The judge also ordered Charbonneau to dismantle and deactivate the heliport with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Charbonneau, who signed and agreed to the injunction, is allowed one last flight from his helipad, when he hires a licensed pilot to move his helicopter to another location.

While having a heliport in a backyard or flying it in or out of a residential neighborhood is not explicitly referenced in the county’s zoning code, it is also not included in allowed activities for residential neighborhoods.

Shirley Auble, who lives down the street from the helipad, said she and many others in the neighborhood see the injunction as a win, but only if Charbonneau follows it.

“I see that as a victory, we all do, but he has to obey the order,” she said.

Next-door neighbors Dana and Carl Strode said they have previously told Charbonneau that his flights were clearly illegal.

The Strodes, who have been feuding with Charbonneau over the helipad and its installation for the past few years, said they were relieved the county had ordered the helipad shut down, and were hoping it would return “peace and tranquility to the neighborhood.”

“I’m hopeful that this time, under financial threat, penalties and perhaps jail time, he might realize that his helicopter fantasy has come to an end,” Strode said.

They said they hadn’t heard the helicopter take off in a month or more.

When reached by phone Thursday morning, Charbonneau declined to comment.

Alexis Lundgren, a deputy prosecuting attorney who worked on the case, said if he violates the order, the county could pursue an order of contempt against Charbonneau. She noted that the order is what his attorney negotiated on his behalf, that Charbonneau signed it, and that he appears to be complying.

Charbonneau must notify the county when he removes his helicopter, but he has not done so yet.

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