AUGUSTA — Plans for a helicopter pad drew concern from neighbors and questions from planners as Maine National Guard officials presented their proposal to build a $30 million, nearly 100,000-square-foot headquarters building on Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery property in North Augusta.

The proposed two-story building to be built on an undeveloped, wooded land between the cemetery and Civic Center Drive would serve as the new Joint Force Headquarters for the Guard in Maine, hosting primarily administrative offices, officials told the Augusta Planning Board on Tuesday night.

It would have a helicopter pad on the northern edge of the property, an area relatively close to neighbors.

Lt. Col. Norman Michaud, in response to questions from Planning Board members about the landing area, said the landing pad wouldn’t be used often. It is needed, however, Michaud said, so the state adjutant general, Brig. Gen. James D. Campbell, still would have access to aircraft rapidly, as he does now at the current headquarters at Camp Keyes, next to the Augusta State Airport.

“There is no plan to bring the general in every morning, and pick him up at night, by helicopter,” Michaud said. “It may be used once a week. It could be used as rarely as once every six months. We felt we needed to provide the Maine adjutant general the ability to access an aircraft right in his backyard. That’s why we put it there.”

At least one neighbor expressed concern about noise from helicopters going in and out of the site, and asked whether the helicopter landing pad could be moved elsewhere on the property.

“We’re wondering, with the helicopter landing there, hopefully infrequently, we’re wondering if it can meet the noise standards in the ordinance,” said Shirley Ezzy, who lives within 500 feet of the project site. “That’s a real concern for us. It is right in our backyard, next to the end of their property line. We’re wondering, in the design, if there could be some other place on the site the landing pad could be put in, where it wouldn’t impact neighbors as much as it appears this landing pad might.”

Susan Redmond, the city’s assistant planner, said she would research the city’s noise rules to see whether they would apply to a helicopter landing pad.

Corey Vose, chairman of the Planning Board, told Ezzy the city would have an answer to the noise question by the time the Guard comes back with a formal application.

Tuesday’s session was meant to inform the public and the Planning Board about the planned project, in advance of the Guard filing its application later this year.

The Guard plans to move some operations and many of the people it now has at Camp Keyes to the proposed Joint Force Headquarters.

The Army and Air Guard headquarters would be built on 43 acres of the adjacent 165-acre Maine Veterans’ Memorial Cemetery property.

The federally funded project on state land needs the same local approvals and permits a private project would need, according to Lt. Col. Dwaine Drummond, director of facilities and engineering for the Maine National Guard.

In this case, that means it will need to undergo a major development review by planners, as a conditional use in the city’s Planned Development District. The project is expected to start in 2015 and be complete in 2018.

The guard plans to build a two-story, 99,800-square-foot building; a 287-space parking lot; a 134-space parking lot for military vehicles; a gatehouse; access drives; and other improvements at the now-undeveloped site.

People would get there from a driveway to the cemetery. That driveway, according to application materials filed with the city, would be moved to align with Darin Drive on the opposite side of Civic Center Drive. That new intersection would be designed and built by the state Department of Transportation and include a traffic signal, according to the application materials.

The site is heavily wooded. Four houses are between the site and Civic Center Drive, three of which are for sale.

John Kenney, a civil engineer with WRBC Architects and Engineers, a firm working on the project for the Guard, said the Guard would be cognizant of the need to keep a buffer area between the residences on Civic Center Drive and the facility.

As part of the move, 200 to 300 employees — most of the headquarters staff — would move from Camp Keyes. More industrial, visible functions such as vehicle maintenance would remain at Camp Keyes.

Ray Bolduc, a principal of WRBC, said Joint Force Headquarters workers are currently in seven buildings at Camp Keyes. The buildings are wood frame, and Bolduc said some date to the 1800s and need to be replaced.

The Guard considered 42 different sites for the facility, including remaining at Camp Keyes, or moving to the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus and a rural Guard training site in West Gardiner.

The Guard plans to retain all or most of the Camp Keyes property for now, though some of the older buildings there will be torn down.

Bolduc said the project could start in late 2014 and probably take two years to complete.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647
[email protected]

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