AUSTIN (KXAN) – Several weeks ago, a business owner, who operates out of The Village shopping center on Anderson Lane in north Austin, said a helicopter landed in a parking lot in front of his office, alarming him, his staff and some neighboring businesses. KXAN went to two additional businesses in the center who said they also saw the helicopter land in the parking lot multiple times.

“I personally have seen it once. My staff have all seen it three times,” the business owner, who wants to stay anonymous, said. 

One time when the helicopter landed, the business owner said the pilot told him it was a private aircraft. He also added the pilot said he was asked to land in the parking lot to “scare off” people without homes who were sleeping in the complex.

The Village shopping center has many vacancies due to a larger operation recently relocating, according to sources. Because of this, the parking lot where the helicopter was landing is mostly empty. Still, the presence of the aircraft concerned the business owner.

“I just don’t like the idea of pedestrian and street traffic mixing with a helicopter in such close proximity,” he said. “The parking lot is mostly empty because the center is mostly empty, but it’s too close to the buildings where people are working,” he continued. 

Tracking down the helicopter

Through photographs of the tail number on the helicopter, KXAN determined the aircraft belonged to Robert Steiner, owner of Steiner Ranch Steakhouse. 

KXAN reached out to the Steiner family. KXAN spoke with Tommy Steiner, Robert Steiner’s son, who confirmed he was the pilot of the helicopter. Records show Tommy Steiner is a certified private helicopter pilot with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Steiner lives in Wimberley and works in Cedar Park. He said commuting to work via helicopter instead of car saves him a great deal of time.

Steiner told KXAN one of the shopping center’s property managers asked him to fly the helicopter weekly to the center to ward off people staying on the roof of the building who may deface the property or steal from the businesses. Steiner said he was told there was a “vagrancy problem” at the center and that there was an instance where someone sleeping on the roof broke into a business one night and stole from them.

Steiner said he did this several times until someone complained and he stopped. Steiner said that since the parking lot was mostly empty he was not causing “undue hazard to personal property” and that he had the permission of the property manager.

The business owner said after KXAN visited the shopping center, he reached out to the company that manages it, Aquila Commercial. He told KXAN that a property manager said he knew whose helicopter it was and he would “make it stop.” 

KXAN reached out to this property manager, who said he was not willing to comment on this story. 

Since KXAN visited the business park in early August, the staff there said they have not seen the helicopter.

Is this allowed? 

In the Austin Code of Ordinances, there is a section on heliports, where helicopters are authorized to land and take off, and helicopter operations. 

The section on authorized landing areas states

(A) Except in an emergency, a person may not land an aircraft in the city except that:

(1) a fixed wing aircraft may land:

(a) on designated runways at the airport;

(b) on a field or body of water approved in advance by the director and the director of the planning and development review department;

(2) a helicopter may land:

(a) on a designated landing area at the airport; or

(b)at a heli-facility that has a valid heli-facility permit obtained pursuant to Article 4 of this chapter, subject to the terms of the heli-facility permit;

(3) an aircraft other than a fixed wing aircraft or a helicopter may land on a field approved in advance by the director and the director of the Planning and Development Review Department.

(B) For purposes of Sections 1-1-99 and 13-1-201, a person who violates this section commits an offense for each non-emergency landing.

Austin, Texas – Code of Ordinances

KXAN also reached out to the Austin Department of Aviation, which said it reviews applications for helistops to ensure they meet necessary aviation requirements. 

A spokesperson from Austin-Bergstrom International Airport said once an application is approved, the AUS Executive Director and CEO must sign it. 

“We can confirm that we have not received a permit application or signed off on an approved one for 2700 West Anderson Lane, [the location of The Village],” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson from the Development Services Department confirmed the Development Services Department Code Compliance Division does enforce violations, however, the department has not received any complaints for this property.