A controversial proposal to build a heliport at the insurance firm chaired by Democratic leader George E. Norcross III has been approved by the Evesham Township Planning Board.
After a lengthy hearing that ended early Thursday, the board voted, 6-2 with one abstention, to allow the heliport at the office building of Conner, Strong & Buckelew off Route 73.
Norcross, the firm's executive chairman, is the unofficial head of South Jersey's Democratic Party and chairman of Cooper University Hospital's board.
Regina Kinney, the Planning Board's administrative officer, said several conditions were imposed, including one prohibiting takeoffs and landings between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
A pilot at the meeting said helicopters would land an average of 12 times a week. The house closest to the heliport is about 750 feet away.
More than 75 residents of the Burlington County township attended the meeting, which featured acoustics experts from both sides, planners, and lawyers who represented the company and several nearby businesses. Virtua, which has medical facilities at the site, opposed the project, as did many residents, who said at the meeting that the heliport would bring noise to their neighborhoods.
The board granted site-plan approval. Kinney said Conner Strong still needed to obtain approval from the Federal Aviation Administration and the New Jersey Department of Transportation.
About a year ago, the Township Council passed an ordinance allowing heliports under certain circumstances.
"Our clients require 24/7 on-site response for accident investigations and large-scale commercial-claims service throughout the Mid-Atlantic region," company president Mike Tiagwad said in an e-mailed statement. "Additionally, we're proud to offer use of the helipad to the region's emergency response teams free of charge. We've received tremendous support for this long-awaited community asset."
Some residents are "outraged that helicopters will be taking off and landing practically in their backyards," said Joseph Steinbock, who lives at the Country Squires condominium complex and who attended the meeting.
"Whether the project is safe or could disturb the surrounding neighborhood is not relevant to the question, I was told," Steinbock wrote in an e-mail. He said he was concerned partly because there are many geese in the area that could present a hazard to the helicopters.