Town of Paradise Valley to vote on drone regulations Dec. 3

Paradise Valley Town Attorney Andrew Miller provides town council Thursday, Nov. 19 with an overview of the forthcoming drone ordinance. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

Paradise Valley Town Attorney Andrew Miller provides town council Thursday, Nov. 19 with an overview of the forthcoming drone ordinance. (Independent Newsmedia/Terrance Thornton)

The Town of Paradise Valley is expected to join a handful of American municipalities opting to institute local controls over the private and commercial usage of unmanned aircraft flown within town limits.

Paradise Valley Town Council is expected to vote on the proposed ordinance Thursday, Dec. 3 at Town Hall, 6401 E. Lincoln Drive.

The ordinance will be focused on protecting privacy concerns as more and more citizens worry about the remote-controlled quadcopters flying overhead — and watching their every move.

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Quadcopters can be equipped with HD camera equipment. (File photo)

The devices are used for a variety of purposes. Real estate agents use them to obtain aerial photographs of top-tier properties. In the public sector, unmanned aircraft are often used for surveillance purposes in municipalities such as Phoenix.

The proposed Paradise Valley drone ordinance will include three distinct sectors of regulation: The private realm, the commercial realm and the public realm, officials say.

While the term “drone” has been embedded within media nomenclature, the true definition of the word suggests a completely autonomous aircraft with programmable GPS waypoints, according to remote-controlled aircraft enthusiasts.

The proposed ordinance, which would be an addition to Town Code Article 10-12, includes these basic provisions:

  • Private property use — residents will be allowed to use an unmanned aerial vehicle up to 500 feet within his or her own property as long as the flight does not record or photograph people and activities in neighboring backyards.
  • Commercial use — commercial users must (1) register with the Paradise Valley Police Department; (2) provide identification for the aircraft to be used; (3) make an online notification of the date, time, location and contact information for the commercial user at the city’s website.
  • Emergency use — Emergency use, defined by the issuance of a warrant of code enforcement activities, will be allowed by a law enforcement agency in response to an emergency situation.

Town officials say the new ordinance will have several provisions allowing the municipality to initially administer warnings.

However, if a user appears to be operating the device in a reckless manner, misdemeanor trespass charges up to a $2,500 fine and six months in jail are penalties that could be assessed if users are found in violation of town code.

A balance of competing interests

“The final ordinance attempts to balance the competing interests of residents who are concerned about the potential safety and privacy issues connected with safe and appropriate use of UAV technology, and the expected increase in use of UAV for both personal recreational use and for certain commercial applications,” said Town Attorney Andrew Miller at a Nov. 19 public hearing on the topic.

Mr. Miller contends new rules are not meant to limit recreational and commercial operations but rather to provide residents with peace of mind.

“If they (residents) had concerns about their privacy they would be able to go online, and if they feel it’s being abused they can always call the police department,” Mr. Miller said of new resources for local residents. “People need that permission before they fly over someone’s property.”

Mr. Miller points out the municipality is trying its best to create an ordinance that works with the possibility of a national registry system devised by the Federal Aviation Industry.

“We are trying to harmonize what we are doing with what the FAA is doing,” he explained. “They might prefer something to a car registration. We allow for recreational uses for people on their own property up to 500 feet.

All airspace — from the ground up — is regulated by the FAA.

“The FAA can take enforcement action against anyone who operates an unmanned aircraft system — whether it’s for commercial or hobby purposes — in a way that endangers the safety of the national airspace system,” said FAA Pacific West Division Public Affairs Manager Ian Gregor last May.

“This authority is designed to protect users of the airspace as well as people and property on the ground.”

The FAA has regulations that apply to the operation of all aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, and regardless of the altitude at which the aircraft is operating, officials say.

FAA officials say all commercial remote-controlled pilots ought to have authorization for what they are flying.

Too stiff a penalty?

Paradise Valley council members Jerry Bien-Willner and Paul Dembow urged caution over proposed penalties within the ordinance.

Jerry Bien-Willner

Jerry Bien-Willner

“I am fully supporting of this kind of legislation. I think it really supports what we are about in this town,” Councilman Bien-Willner said at the public hearing. “I would just prefer that it is codified that any initial violation is civil.”

Vice Mayor Dembow says he is not interested in the town enacting new rules that create new legal questions for the municipality.

“I am a big supporter of privacy,” he said. “I just want to make sure we don’t start enforcing this and that it creates more problems. Whatever the FAA comes out with I don’t what to be he first municipality to be sued.”

Vice Mayor Dembow says he wants a mandatory annual review of the drone ordinance when, and if, it is approved by town council.

Paul Dembow

Paul Dembow

“I think looking back on it in a year is a really good idea,” he said.

Mr. Miller says both a review period and civil violations are part of the municpal plan to regulate drone usage within town limits.

“The first violation should be a civil violation,” he said. “Ignorance to the law is no excuse but in this case a warning initially is appropriate here. But we would want to reserve the right to prosecute as a misdemeanor.”

Mr. Miller contends these regulations are to help provide regulation for concerns expressed by local residents.

“One of the reasons I like having the law out there is so people don’t have to take the law into their own hands and try to shoot the drones out of the sky,” he said.

Councilman Bien-Willner remained steadfast in his assertion the penalties of the proposed ordinance need to be clearly identified.

“We need those thresholds spelled out,” he said. “It could have different paths to someone who is acting in a reckless manner.”

North Valley News Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at 623-445-2774 or at tthornton@newszap.com

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