Text from www.goerie.com
Millcreek zoning group approves construction of new coaster
Waldameer Park got a big boost Wednesday night when Millcreek Township's zoning board approved construction of the park's Ravine Flyer II roller coaster.
The three-member board unanimously granted Waldameer owner Paul Nelson a variance to build the thrill ride on a bluff near Lake Erie, though the decision came with stringent conditions.
The board said the granting of the variance hinges on Waldameer meeting a set of 17 requirements.
The amusement park, among other things, must get a $15 million liability insurance policy for the ride, hold Millcreek harmless for any accidents related to the ride, plant a strip of pine trees to shield the ride from Waldameer's neighbors, and keep as many trees as possible along the coaster's path.
"Whatever has to be done, has to be done," Nelson said after the Zoning Hearing Board announced its decision at the Millcreek Municipal Building.
Nelson said he has dreamed of building the Ravine Flyer II since he was a boy, and he said he'll need three to four more years to erect the steel-and-wood coaster, which is designed to cross Peninsula Drive near the entrance to Presque Isle State Park.
Nelson has estimated the ride will cost as much as $6 million. He said it will attract a flood of coaster enthusiasts and other new tourists to the 108-year-old Waldameer, the 11th-oldest continuously operated amusement park in the United States and 27th oldest in the world. The Ravine Flyer II is designed to resemble the original Ravine Flyer, which Waldameer dismantled more than 60 years ago and which has gained legendary status among coaster aficionados, according to the trade publication "Amusement Today."
Wednesday's decision ends years of waiting for Nelson, who first announced plans for the Ravine Flyer II in the late 1990s. But the ruling does not remove the possibility of more delays. The Zoning Hearing Board granted the variance despite persistent opposition from Brian Candela, the owner of Sara Coyne Beachcomber Campground, which sits at the foot of the bluff where the coaster is designed to travel.
Candela, who was not at Wednesday's meeting, has said he wants Waldameer to grow, but that the park should build the Ravine Flyer II using a design that Candela believes would be less disruptive to neighbors.
Candela's lawyer for the zoning appeal, Edward Betza, attended Wednesday's meeting and said the decision disappointed him. He said he must review the ruling with Candela to decide whether to appeal to Erie County Common Pleas Court.
The Zoning Hearing Board members who decided the case are Chairwoman Regina K. Smith and members Michael Martin and Robert E. Sidman. Smith read the lengthy decision, which she said the board reached after extensive deliberations during two executive sessions, or private meetings, on Monday and Tuesday with lawyer Thomas Kuhn, the board's special counsel for the Waldameer appeal. Smith said the board based its decision on four and a half hours of testimony that the members heard at a meeting on the appeal March 3.
"This case has been a very difficult case for the board," Smith said. "We have truly anguished over the decision."
She said the 17 conditions are meant to secure the safety of the Ravine Flyer II, preserve trees and other plants along the ride's course and protect the neighbors' peacefulness and enjoyment of their property while allowing Waldameer to use its property as the park desires.
Several of the 17 conditions deal with ways Waldameer must alert motorists to the coaster or prevent them from being distracted by it. The board prohibited Waldameer from placing advertisements or other signs on the bridge that will carry the coaster across Peninsula Drive, and the board said Waldameer must place signs along Peninsula Drive that warn motorists of the coaster crossing overhead.
An environmental issue was at the core of the board's ruling. The dispute was over whether Nelson, Waldameer's owner, should be allowed to build the coaster on a bluff that overlooks the base of Presque Isle State Park and, in the distance, Lake Erie. State law and a Millcreek ordinance define that bluff as hazardous and off-limits to construction.
Township officials more than two years ago asked the state Department of Environmental Protection to issue a report that would better define bluff hazards on Lake Erie, including the spot where the coaster would go. The township hoped the report would help guide officials as they tried to decide whether to let Nelson go ahead with his plans.
The state has yet to issue the report, so Nelson sought the variance from the Zoning Hearing Board. The board members agreed that the coaster was to be built on a bluff, though they granted the variance and attached the conditions. Smith said the board found that the bluff, while it meets the definition of a bluff under the law, is less a cliff and more of a "non-precipitous slope that could accommodate the proposed structure."
The board also noted the DEP's lack of a ruling or involvement in the zoning hearing on the Ravine Flyer II.
The art of a roller coaster starts with the cars.
At Waldameer Park & Water World, where they've sunk the anchors for the Ravine Flyer II, that meant a call to the Philadelphia Toboggan Co.
PTC built the Comet, the park's 1951 coaster. The company's steel-wheeled cars would have to manage the path of the 2,900-foot Ravine Flyer II, which will travel twice as far as the Comet in the same 90 seconds.
"We base a lot of our drawings on what the cars can do," said Larry Bill, who designed the ride, which will bridge Peninsula Drive. "That as much as anything defines the scope of a wooden coaster."
That and the owner. Paul Nelson has wanted this particular roller coaster since 1945. He was 11 then, and just starting at the park.
"We used to have breakfast with the owners," Nelson said. "We would talk about the past and about the future of the park, and that always came up."
It had to. Roller coasters are the skylines of amusement rides. They draw people to the park.
Consider Santa Claus Land, a park in southern Indiana. They had 300,000 visitors in the summer of 1991. A name change and the opening of two coasters, including the 67-mph Voyage -- another Larry Bill design -- helped sell more than a million tickets in 2006.
That was not lost on Nelson, who saw roughly 400,000 people last summer at Waldameer, which opens its 2007 season today. He has long wanted a classic big wooden track, a muscled-up homage to Waldameer's first bridge coaster, which opened in 1922.
That Ravine Flyer operated until 1938, when a rider fell to his death. After that, the bridge came down. The station became the Lakeview Grove picnic pavilion.
The new track starts just across from it, behind the Wipeout. It will climb 80 feet -- clack-clack, clack-clack, clack-clack -- crest with a few-seconds view of the lake and then barrel down the bluff and across Peninsula Drive.
That feature all but stopped it. Nelson fought nearly 10 years for the zoning change the bridge required.
He also squabbled with a condominium association and the owners of the Sara Coyne Campground.
Now it's Larry Bill's problem.
"We've gone over roads before," said the designer, a senior partner at the Ohio-based Gravity Group.
"But not with this big a bridge."
The steel arch will stretch 161 feet, reaching to an acre adjacent to the Tom Ridge Environmental Center.
The coaster will open in 2008. The yellow-pine track will duck under four tunnels and reach a high speed of 57 mph.
At the moment, though, the coaster is a foam-and-cardboard model in Nelson's office.
It's a hillside stripped of trees. It's three dozen steel anchors, the engineers' equivalent of an iceberg: I-beam tripods, their bottoms hammered 63 feet into the ground.
It's that and a $6 million invoice. "This park is like your wife," Nelson grumbled. "It knows if you've got a dime. And it wants it."
Bill's team keeps tweaking the design. There are crossovers and bank angles and 10 spots of bunny-hop air time.
"There's a lot of dishwashing to the job," he said.
"No question about it. But it's exciting, creating something, making a ride out of nothing. And that's what we're doing with Waldameer. We're giving them back that signature attraction."
He has a pretty good picture of it.
"You're going to be up above the trees, looking out at the lake, and then you'll be diving over that hill. And that's when it will really get exciting."
As a kid, Bill rode the coaster at Coney Island.
Now, at 54, he mostly rides his own designs.
The Ravine Flyer II is number 35.
Even then, he said, he prefers to eye the exit line.
"Just being there, watching people come off the ramp, laughing, having a good day. ... For me, that's a real nice time."
It's so nice to hear about a Park which gets it's sig ride back after all the years of planning and destroying the original coaster. I'm going to visit the park when I pass through onto Cedar Point next year.
"Roller coaster design is a science, as well as an art: a state of pure bliss".