NORTH ROYALTON – Ward 3 Councilman Dan Langshaw introduced drone legislation creating some basic rules, primarily in regards to privacy and safety, but his proposal didn’t fly with council.
Langshaw said during the Jan. 17 safety committee meeting he chairs that a resident first brought the topic up a year ago, and after digging, he found Cleveland, Aurora and Cuyahoga Heights all passed drone legislation and Broadview Heights is considering something similar.
“It got my attention. Drones can be fun for kids, and there are many positives with drones when used safely. Drones are much more affordable now and just about anyone can buy one,” he said.
The intent, Langshaw said, was to proactively stay up to date with changing times by creating basic guidelines to protect residents and provide guidance to law enforcement on how to deal with any issues.
“Many of these drones now can record and live-stream video, which is a privacy concern, especially in heavy residential areas,” he explained.
The legislation proposes to create a new chapter titled “Unmanned Aircraft Systems” within the codified ordinances prohibiting anyone from operating them and recording images in airspace above and adjacent to private property and public areas such as a public park, school property, municipal property, any public utilities provider or any other public entity.
Langshaw said use of drones in certain public sites would be permitted if approval is granted by the safety director, and use of drones would also be permitted on private property if permission is given by the owner.
The legislation would not apply to police if officers obtain a search warrant first authorizing drone use, or if they feel swift action is necessary to locate a missing person or prevent loss of life, damage to property, suspect escape, destruction of evidence.
Violators would be guilty of a fourth degree misdemeanor.
Ward 6 Councilman Dan Kasaris, a prosecutor, cross-examined the proposal and objected.
What he found particularly worrisome is the section pertaining to law enforcement.
“If the Cuyahoga County Sheriff flies a drone and didn’t get a search warrant, this ordinance criminalizes that behavior,” he said.
Kasaris cited a few more scenarios surrounding the section prohibiting drones on property owned or used by any other “public entity.”
“If a 15-year-old flies it over a public street, is he committing an offense? If the turnpike wants to use a drone to look at where they’re going to put a wall or do drainage, does the turnpike have to go to the safety director to get approval before they fly the drone on their own property?” Kasaris said.
Ward 2 Councilman Gary Petrusky disagreed with the legislation too.
“What about model airplanes? Are you going to come arrest my 7-year-old granddaughter because her $30 airplane flies over the public street? There has to be some common sense applied to what we are doing here, too,” he said.
Thomas Wasinski, a North Royalton graduate and owner of Aerial Agents, said public parks are the ideal setting to fly drones and noted many drones today must be registered.
“All drones need to be registered and if not, they can be confiscated,” he said. “The use in public parks, that is where you designate drone use to be at. I think those are great venues to practice this type of technology.”
A teen in attendance who owns a drone verified that his had to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration.
“There’s quite a bit of rules there on what you can and cannot do,” he shared.
Kasaris said since 2012, there have only been four complaints received, so legislation isn’t really warranted.
Council President Larry Antoskiewicz said he too is hesitant to over-legislate.
“I’ve got to believe if someone keeps dropping a drone on my property, there is something on the books that will cover that. The FAA has a consistent rule that applies to everyone everywhere. If we did need additional legislation, that’s what you would need to look at so that no matter where you go, the rules are the same,” he said. “I understand the want to be in the forefront, but sometimes those in the forefront wind up in lawsuits.”
Langshaw asked the law department to find existing ordinances providing protection for residents from any issues of privacy, nuisance and safety drones can pose.
Code pertaining to disorderly conduct was found to cover drone usage, so Langshaw withdrew the legislation Jan. 20.