John Schnatter's helicopter use irks neighbors in Anchorage
Papa John’s founder and CEO John Schnatter has earned a reputation as a patron of Anchorage, the bucolic eastern Jefferson County enclave where he has lived among other wealthy Louisvillians for more than 20 years. But lately, Schnatter has irked neighbors with helicopter landings.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Papa John’s founder and CEO John Schnatter has earned a reputation as a patron of Anchorage, the bucolic eastern Jefferson County enclave where he has lived among other wealthy Louisvillians for more than 20 years.
The pizza magnate owns much of the land in Anchorage’s town square, including a large farm where he built a 2-mile walking trail that is open to the public.
But lately, Schnatter has been using that same real estate for another purpose: to land and launch helicopters. And while his neighbors appreciate the walking trail, some are not happy about the choppers.
“After yet another low-altitude buzzing of our house by the Schnatter helicopter, my wife and I would like to add our voices to what must be a growing chorus of people utterly perplexed as to how this can be allowed in our community,” Anchorage resident Robert Gathright wrote in an email to city officials last week.
“…There is a reason I have never bought property near an airport, and I cannot believe the people of Anchorage will abide having their community used as one.”
Through a public records request, WDRB News obtained emails from about a dozen Anchorage residents who have complained to the city about Schnatter’s helicopter flights since mid-February.
Jerry Irwin told city officials there were roughly a dozen “noisy helicopter landings” near his house on Evergreen Road in the first three weeks of February, disturbing the “peaceful retirement” he and his wife had hoped to enjoy in Anchorage.
“We did not in our wildest dreams expect to own a home next to any sort of aircraft landing zone,” Irwin wrote on Feb. 18.
In an interview, resident Nancy Kuppersmith said she’s as concerned about the environmental impact of the helicopter flights as she is about “loud and annoying” noise near her home. And she’s worried about Schnatter setting a precedent.
“It’s a wealthy place, so there are more than one person who can afford a helicopter… If he gets to, so can other people,” she said.
Schnatter “has occasionally landed a helicopter in Anchorage in accordance with all applicable aviation regulations,” according to a statement from Evergreen Real Estate, the company through which Schnatter owns 116 acres in Anchorage.
The area where Schnatter reportedly lands the helicopter is near the intersection of Evergreen Road and Garr Avenue – about a mile from the 18,000-square-foot villa on Stone Gate Road where Schnatter lives.
In February, Papa John’s got approval from the city of Jeffersontown to place a helipad on top its corporate office off Blankenbaker Parkway, which is about five miles south of Anchorage.
John McGarvey, Anchorage’s city attorney, said he’s been looking into whether the city “has the ability to regulate” helicopter usage through zoning or other local powers.
One unresolved issue, McGarvey said, is whether Schnatter has built what could be considered a “helipad” on the farm in Anchorage and whether that might have required some sort of permit.
Aaron Thompson, an Evergreen Real Estate official, said in an email there is no helipad, but that the helicopter sometimes lands on “a small patch of asphalt that is multipurpose (parking, farm equipment staging, etc).” The chopper can also land “in the field as well.”
Anchorage, with its large residential lots and separate school district from Jefferson County Public Schools, has long been a refuge for Louisville’s wealthy.
The Schnatters moved there in 1991. Their mansion on Stone Gate Road has the highest tax value -- $7.6 million -- of all homes in Jefferson County.
In 2007, The Courier-Journal wrote how some of Anchorage’s old-guard were suspicious when Schnatter began buying up property, but he eventually became a respected town patron with his development projects.
Schnatter owns and renovated most of the buildings in Anchorage’s small town square, including the one housing the Village Anchor restaurant.
“What I am trying to do is enhance the town, protect the heritage, and not have my neighbors mad at me,” Schnatter told the newspaper in 2007.
Several of the residents who complained to the city about the helicopters – and even the author of an anonymous flier that was placed in residents’ mailboxes -- nonetheless acknowledged Schnatter’s contributions to Anchorage.
“For all the great things the Schnatter family is known for in this community I am without words as to the lack of sensitivity and the perception this puts out there,” the anonymous author wrote in the flier. (See a copy of the flier below).
Resident Stephen J. Ford wrote in an email that he worries about the city giving special treatment to Schnatter with respect the helicopter usage.
“Rightly or wrongly, there is a widespread perception that when Mr. Schnatter commands, city authorities obey,” he wrote on May 4. “I’m sure you agree that no citizen – regardless of wealth, celebrity or acts of past generosity – should have such special privileges.”
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