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COPTER'S PATH TO AVOID HOMES

Matt Geiger tries to calm fears about a planned helipad at his mansion.

Matt Geiger had a confession to make Monday night as he met with neighbors to smooth over concerns about building a heliport on his property.

The former NBA player said his friends, with him as a passenger, have landed helicopters on his 36-acre estate many times over the past few years.

He said nobody complained.

Horses didn't freak out and stampede down Old Keystone Road.

The world did not come to an end.

In fact the only reaction from his neighbors, he said, has been, "Wow, that was pretty cool.''

Bruce Rinker, director of Pinellas County's Environmental Lands Division who works out of nearby Brooker Creek Preserve, sat back in his chair Monday and smiled.

"We knew it was you!'' he said.

Rinker and more than a dozen neighbors attended a meeting Geiger had set up at the Allegro at East Lake retirement community hoping to ease their fears about his plans to build a heliport. He and zoning consultant Todd Pressman also wanted to get residents' input and answer their questions.

Geiger shared the proposed flight path, which would take the chopper over the preserve and not over residents' houses.

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Those who showed up had lots of questions Geiger tried to answer.

- Why build a heliport? "A couple of friends of mine have helicopters,'' said Geiger. "A friend of mine said, 'Why don't you get a helicopter, Matt?' '' He also said, "From a business standpoint, I'll be able to fly over (and survey) my land.'' Geiger is a developer.

- Why build a heliport if you are going to sell your house? (Geiger's estate is on the market for $20-million.) He said if he sells his home, he could still potentially use the heliport. He said that a Tampa family is seriously interested in purchasing his house. Although they may be wealthy, they do not own a helicopter.

- Where are you going to store the fuel? "I will not have fuel storage on the site,'' Geiger said. Pressman, however, broke into the conversation and said "that's something we have to research.''

- Can you consider not flying over Brooker Creek Preserve at dusk and dawn so wild animals who are most active during those times won't be disturbed? Geiger indicated that he understood that those who live and work near his estate prefer that he fly only during daytime hours. Pressman added, "Matt doesn't intend to have helicopters flying around in the middle of the night.''

- Can you avoid flying during kids' nap times? Geiger and the audience laughed. "Times are flexible,'' he said.

- Who is going to fly the helicopter? And how often? He said it wasn't going to be him for now. "I haven't gotten my license yet,'' Geiger said. "I can see myself getting a license in the future.'' Flying would be limited to six round trips per week.

Impact on birds

A county hearing on the proposed heliport is set for Aug. 9.

Barbara Walker, a resident of East Lake and a member of the Clearwater Audubon Society, is not convinced installing a helicopter pad near the preserve is a wise thing to do.

"We are concerned about the environmental impact,'' she said Tuesday. "Increased aircraft is going to affect the birds.''

But Robert Miner, who lives across the street from Geiger's compound, has no problem with the plan.

"I kind of feel good living next door to a millionaire who has his own helicopter,'' he said.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.

Former NBA player Matt Geiger wants permission from the county to build a heliport on his 36-acre estate in East Lake. On Monday, he handed out photos of the proposed path to residents who are worried about how the possible noise and pollution may affect their lives. The path would take the helicopter over Brooker Creek Preserve rather than over nearby houses.

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