Politics & Government

Raleigh rule would limit use of drones in city parks

People will be able to use drones or other remote-controlled aerial vehicles in only seven of the city’s nearly 90 public parks under a proposed ordinance.

The proposed policy pinpoints spaces where people can fly drones in Baileywick, Eastgate, Spring Forest, Marsh Creek, Dorothea Dix, Eliza Pool and Southgate parks. It also sets limits on when drones can be flown and forbids the use of drones with cameras in four of the seven parks. The ordinance would apply to other unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, such as model rockets and other remote-controlled aircraft flown for recreational purposes.

Pilots would still need to share those spaces with other park patrons and must adhere to operating regulations – many of which are already in place by the Federal Aviation Administration – such as not flying higher than 400 feet off the ground or not operating outside the pilot’s line of sight.

The move comes at a time when the number of drone pilots in the Triangle continues to skyrocket. As of February, there were nearly 5,000 Triangle fliers registered with the FAA. And local parks are popular places for drones to take flight.

“It’s unfortunate that they felt the need to restrict any of it,” said Roger Bess of Apex, who flew remote-controlled UAVs in Dix Park for years before getting a drone. “We’ve been flying very safely RC airplanes for generations. That being said, they could have made the choice to restrict them all and don’t allow any of them to fly, so carving out spaces for us to fly is better than saying you can’t fly at all.”

Scott Payne, assistant director for Raleigh’s parks, recreation and cultural resources department, said the city wanted to find fields and other spaces that were large enough to allow the hobby.

“It felt like the right time to put our arms around it and find where are the best locations in our system where we could allow it to happen,” he said.

Payne said city officials evaluated potential sites based on five criteria. They 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. He said once the ordinance is approved, the department will evaluate drone use at the parks to determine if other areas are needed.

Because recreational drones are used for a wide range of purposes, like photography or racing, the proposed ordinance would affect fliers differently.

Josh Hyde, chapter organizer for Raleigh Rotor Racers, said he has heard concerns about the policy from pilots who like to fly in areas with trees.

“The concern is that only one field at Dorothea Dix is being considered for use with drones,” Hyde said. “It’s a big open field that isn’t very fun to fly because there are no trees or obstacles to fly around.”

Unmanned aerial vehicles also would not be allowed in nature preserves, nature parks, wetland centers or lakes owned, managed or leased by the city if the proposal is approved. That includes Horseshoe Farm Nature Preserve in North Raleigh, where some drone pilots fly.

“We’re trying to encourage restorations of some bird species that are nesters in these big fields,” Payne said. “So there are concerns they would be scared away because of people flying, so we just don’t feel like it’s a best fit for a nature preserve.”

Some drone enthusiasts have also pointed out that most drones come with mounted cameras that cannot be removed, which could limit their use to the designated areas at Dorothea Dix, Baileywick and Marsh Creek parks.

Payne cited privacy reasons as the purpose for this limitation.

“Several of the potential locations within the proposed parks have close proximity to surrounding neighbors,” he said. “The Parks Committee during their deliberation considered privacy concerns for the surrounding neighbors. While one may have a reasonable expectation of being photographed while in a public park, there are concerns with UAV photographing someone on their private property from within the bounds of a public park.”

Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4845: @KTrogdon

Have your say

A public hearing on the proposed ordinance will be held by The Parks Committee, a subcommittee of the city’s Parks, Recreation and Greenway Advisory Board, at 6 p.m. Thursday, July 13, at the Raleigh City Council Chambers, on the second floor of the Raleigh Municipal Building at 222 W. Hargett St.