Vermont aviation entrepreneur Kyle Clark faced questions from a town board Wednesday night about aerial acrobatics he allegedly performed over a neighbor’s property in Lincoln.
Clark, the founder of South Burlington electric aircraft company Beta Technologies, has been seeking to build a 60-foot-wide, 1,500-foot-long, grass landing strip at a home he bought last year in the rural Addison County town.
Clark applied for a permit for the landing strip in March. The town’s zoning administrator issued one, but neighbor Marilyn Ganahl appealed. During a three-hour special meeting Wednesday night, the town’s zoning board of adjustment heard from both parties.
Claudine Safar, an attorney for Ganahl, showed Clark a video of the alleged acrobatics that neither the audience nor the board could see, but which came with running commentary from Ganahl describing several maneuvers Clark conducted in the area, including “dips and dives,” “flipping over” and “barrel rolls.”
Clark smiled as the video played, telling Safar that Ganahl’s commentary did not accurately describe where he had been flying relative to Ganahl. Clark said the video showed he “was clearly not” flying over Ganahl’s property.
Safar also asked Clark about his decision to install a sign reading “Low Flying Aircraft” next to the property of a neighbor in Underhill, where Clark lived before he moved to Lincoln, after she complained about him performing acrobatics in that area. Safar accused Clark of “terrorizing” the Underhill neighbor, Sandy Murphy, by flying low near her house. When the neighbor complained, Safar said, he put up the sign “to let her know that there would continue to be aircraft buzzing her home.”
Over the objections of Clark’s attorneys, Safar introduced evidence of the acrobatics and the sign to lay the groundwork for later testimony she said would show that Clark has a pattern of performing stunts over neighbors’ properties and intimidating them.
“Flying his low-flying aircraft across neighbors’ rooftops,” Safar said. “It’s what he did in Underhill. It’s what he’s going to do here.”
Clark testified that he owns 26 aircraft, five of them electric.
One of his attorneys, Liam Murphy, argued that Lincoln’s zoning regulations do not address aircraft or airstrips, nor do they cover noise standards, lighting or glare. Murphy argued that only the Federal Aviation Administration can regulate air space and that the town can play no role in regulating aircraft once they are in the air.
Murphy said no permit for the landing strip is necessary, adding that landing strips are common around Vermont.
Christian Chorba, another attorney representing Ganahl, countered that private landing strips are not customarily incidental to single-family homes, and so a permit should not have been granted. The vast majority of private landing strips in Vermont, Chorba said, are helipads for hospitals or on farms, or are used for skydiving or pest control. He said very few are permitted to single-family homes.
“It is not common for people to use airplanes,” Chorba said. “It is not common for people to have private landing strips at their homes. This idea that anybody in town can build a quarter-mile-long landing strip without approval is not correct.”
Board members decided to end Wednesday’s hearing after three hours when Safar indicated she still wanted to introduce testimony from two neighbors, including Sandy Murphy, the Underhill neighbor. By that time, none of the long list of Lincoln residents who had wanted to speak had had a chance to do so. The board did not indicate whether Murphy would be allowed to testify, but scheduled the hearing to resume July 12 to allow others from Lincoln to speak.
Beta Technologies is pioneering electric aircraft. It has secured a contract with UPS to sell quiet planes with no emissions that one day could replace big intercity diesel trucks.
Clark’s personal flying has garnered attention before. Last year, he made a precautionary landing in a hay field in Richmond when a plane he had just bought in New Hampshire had engine trouble.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the name of Clark's Underhill neighbor.