Following months of negotiation, a neighborhood governing group agreed to support the proposed GW Hospital helipad project at a meeting Wednesday.
The Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commission passed an agreement with the hospital regulating the use of the helipad by one vote, with three commissioners voting for the project and two voting against. Commissioners Detrick Campbell and Rebecca Coder were not present and Commissioner William Kennedy Smith recused himself from the vote.
The plan now heads to the D.C. Council for approval, which could overturn a longtime law banning new helipads in residential areas, ANC Chairman Patrick Kennedy said during the meeting.
GW Hospital has been working with the neighborhood to install a helipad on its roof to allow trauma patients in the city to reach the hospital more quickly than if they were transported by ambulance.
There is only one other top-ranked trauma center in the District that has a helipad and GW Hospital officials have said the project would reduce the burden of treating trauma patients from other hospitals and shave life-saving minutes off a patient’s travel time.
But for months, some in the community adamantly opposed the proposal arguing that noise from low-flying helicopters would disrupt the area and pose potential safety risks.
The proposal was introduced to the ANC last spring and commissioners gave preliminary approval to the project at a special meeting last month before delaying a final vote at an ANC meeting about two weeks later.
On Wednesday, commissioners agreed to amend the agreement giving the ANC, the Foggy Bottom Association, an independent neighborhood group, and GW Hospital a way to settle any disputes about the project at D.C. Superior Court.
Several neighbors opposed the agreement during the meeting, including West End Association President Sara Maddux. Maddux said the agreement relies too heavily on the Department of Health to regulate the hospital, which she said hasn’t been discussed over the course of the negotiations.
“You are going off the end of the dock,” Maddux said during the meeting. “You may be diving into shallow water – underneath the water. You may be in deep water and can’t swim.”
Kennedy said the Department of Health could not give a commitment without a legal document for enforcement but will testify at the D.C. Council if a bill reaches that point.
He said he wanted the ANC to pass an agreement before the D.C. Council acted on the bill, to give the neighborhood more of a say in the hospital’s planning for the helipad, like regulating the number of flights each year.
“I think we have conducted this process to get to a point with the hospital where we can hopefully find an area of mutual comfort where we can shape that conversation as opposed to having it done at some point outside of our discussions, period,” Kennedy said at the meeting.