Wake County

Raleigh residents urge changes to proposal to limit use of drones in city parks

A drone and its controller at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh recently. The city is proposing to limit where people can fly drones in its parks.
A drone and its controller at Dorothea Dix Park in Raleigh recently. The city is proposing to limit where people can fly drones in its parks. ktrogdon@newsobserver.com

A policy that would limit the use of drones or other remote-controlled aerial vehicles to only seven of Raleigh’s nearly 90 public parks would likely not go before city council until early 2018, according to city staff.

And in the meantime, the policy is still evolving.

About a dozen people spoke at a meeting Thursday of a city advisory committee to urge changes to the proposed policy, which delineates spaces where people would be able to fly drones in Baileywick, Eastgate, Spring Forest, Marsh Creek, Dorothea Dix, Eliza Pool and Southgate parks. It also would limit when drones could be flown and would forbid the use of drones with cameras in four of the seven parks.

The policy would apply to other unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, such as model rockets and other remote-controlled aircraft flown for recreational purposes.

At Thursday’s meeting, Raleigh resident Jay Joiner held out a small nano drone that fit in the palm of his hand. Nano drones can weigh one ounce or less, and Joiner thinks they should be allowed in all city parks.

“A lot of kids like to fly this, but it is still technically classified as a UAV,” Joiner said. “It’s absolutely harmless. I’ve seen numerous families come out with a picnic blanket and fly these little bitty things around.”

Drone racers showed up as well, hoping to answer questions and clear up misconceptions about the sport. They also discussed one of their favorite places to fly – a field at Dix Park with a few trees, which is not listed among the allowed zones.

“Regulations are necessary. We understand that,” Raleigh resident David Parham said. “But at the same time, we don’t want police officers just given these simple rules and they see somebody flying and then they want to run people away when they are not bothering people at all.”

Scott Payne, assistant director for the city’s parks, recreation and cultural resources department, said city staff identified sites that were spread out across the city; were not within five miles of an airport; had large open space; are not heavily used, and are not near ponds, lakes or other ecological or cultural sites.

Some people noted the policy could create heavy foot traffic at the parks listed as designated flight areas.

“If you concentrate everyone who wants to fly to a few areas, that might actually cause more congestion,” said Roger Bess, who flies at Dix Park.

The proposed policy also says the designated areas could be rented by pilots for exclusive use, excluding others from using the space.

Barbara Dunston, who lives next to Spring Forest Park, said she was concerned that if the Spring Forest Park space was reserved by a group, there would be too much noise. She said she would like to see the policy amended to prevent the area from being reserved by large groups.

“I’m not against this,” she said. “I think everybody should have some sort of hobby.”

Payne said city staff would evaluate the comments and bring the policy back to the committee with possible changes at its September meeting.

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon