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Jim Kenyon: A Helipad Is Proposed in Barnard

I understand completely why anyone might be eager to find a way to reach Barnard that doesn’t involve driving through Woodstock. Motoring in and out of that speed trap can be expensive. Take it from someone who knows.

But a helicopter?

That seems a bit over the top.

Strange but true. Last month, John J. Noffo Kahn applied for a town zoning permit to build a 2,500 square foot concrete helipad, complete with lights for night landings and takeoffs, at his $18 million vacation estate in Barnard. The proposed pad would go in a field adjacent to North Road, a paved two-lane thoroughfare that runs between Barnard and Bethel.

Barnard Zoning Administrator Preston Bristow recently ruled that Noffo Kahn doesn’t need a permit since the helipad won’t be used for commercial purposes. “The (zoning) rules don’t say anything about airports or helicopter pads,” Bristow said.

Some of Noffo Kahn’s neighbors and other folks around town, however, still hope to ground the plan. An appeal of Bristow’s decision has attracted more than two dozen signatures. The town’s Development Review Board is scheduled to hear the appeal on April 25.

Jacqueline French, who moved to Barnard from Massachusetts more than 15 years ago, lives across the road from the proposed landing site, but she hasn’t talked with Noffo Kahn about it. In fact, she’s never met the Palm Beach, Fla., resident who moved to town (on a part-time basis, at least) in 2008, after purchasing a 292-acre former dairy farm on Francis Road.

French can only guess why Noffo Kahn wants to plunk down a helipad in a field that isn’t really even within walking distance of his vacation home. Or better yet, why does he need to shuttle in and out of Barnard by helicopter in the first place?

“People move to Vermont for the lifestyle that already exists here,” said French. “They don’t need to bring their lifestyles with them.”

I called Noffo Kahn’s estate in Barnard several times. No one picked up. I left messages for the estate’s caretaker, but didn’t hear back.

So I can only speculate on Noffo Kahn’s reasons for wanting such an amenity. But I think it’s safe to assume that anyone who can afford an $18 million estate isn’t taking Greyhound from Palm Beach to Barnard. I’m guessing that he’s part of the private jet set that uses Lebanon Airport for their sojourns to the Upper Valley.

By car, the drive from Lebanon Airport to Barnard can take 45 minutes. (Not including the time spent on the side of the road if you happen to get pulled over for violating Woodstock’s 25-mph speed limit.) By helicopter, I’m told the trip takes eight minutes.

Noffo Kahn must believe in that old saying, “time is money.” And he apparently has plenty of the latter. A few years ago, a death notice in The New York Times listed Noffo Kahn as the son of Gilbert Stanley Kahn, an heir to a publishing fortune that included TV Guide.

In 2008, Noffo Kahn, operating through a limited liability company known as Monsalvat Farm Holdings LLC, set a record with his Barnard acquisition. The $18 million was the most ever paid for a residential property in Vermont. The estate includes two custom-built stone houses, a barn and a pair of ponds connected by a stone bridge. And quite possibly in the near future a helipad. Unless Barnard’s Development Review Board grants the appeal, which seems unlikely. From the checks I made, it doesn’t appear the state or Federal Aviation Authority has any regulations that would prevent Noffo Kahn from going ahead, either.

David Marshall, who is overseeing the project for Civil Engineering Associates in South Burlington, wrote to the town that the helipad would be used about four times a month. Dana Bargezi, who lives on North Road, figures that’s four times too many. “It’s just a lot of unnecessary noise in a town like Barnard, where we enjoy our peace and quiet,” she told me.

Last week, I stopped by Lebanon Airport, where Roger Sharkey has been in the helicopter business for 40 years. His helicopters shuttle the luxury crowd to Upper Valley hot spots, including the five-star Twin Farms resort and spa in Barnard. (The resort doesn’t have a helipad, but the grounds are suitable for landings and takeoffs.)

“Helicopters are noisy,” Sharkey said. “You’ve got to use them intelligently. You don’t make landings at the three in the morning. You have to be respectful of neighbors.”

Scott Mills, chief of Barnard’s volunteer fire department, is one Noffo Kahn’s neighbors. What’s he think about the proposed helipad?

“I’m very much OK with it,” he told me. “It’s not like there’s going to be a steady stream of helicopters coming and going.”

In his letter to the town, Marshall, the project engineer, wrote that the pad would be available for Dartmouth-Hitchcock’s medical helicopter (DHART) to use for emergency pickups. “That’s a big plus for the town,” Mills said.

Noffo Kahn has already been “very generous” with contributions to the fire department, said Mills. But like a half dozen or so others that I talked with in town, Mills hadn’t met Noffo Kahn.

“Nobody knows the man,” said Bargezi, the North Road resident.

And that seems to be the problem. It probably wouldn’t hurt for Noffo Kahn to make a few phone calls and invite his neighbors to drop by, if for no other reason than to assure them that Barnard will not soon resemble the American embassy during the fall of Saigon.

The meeting should come sooner than later. It’s hard to carry on a conversation when there’s a helicopter hovering overhead.


Letter: The Gap Between Rich and Poor

Monday, April 8, 2013

To the Editor: Perhaps communism isn’t so bad. On the same day the Valley News reported about the difficulty young people have finding affordable housing in the Upper Valley and the $18 million dollar house (possibly with a helipad) in Barnard. Karl Marx proposed “from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” Sounds like a good …