Ban on Drones in Ocean City Comes With Expiration Date
Ocean City Council has a little less than 10 months before it has to make its next move on the drone debate, but it can make a move earlier if it wants to.
Council approved an amended ordinance on Thursday night to ban the use of drones within five miles of Ocean City Airport. The amendment was a sunshine
provision that says the ordinance will expire on Sept. 8, 2016.
By that point, council will have all the information it needs to make a decision on whether to keep the ban, amend it or overturn it altogether.
City Council President Keith Hartzell intends to put together a committee made up of members of council and residents of the city on both sides of the issue to take a thorough look at the issue.
The sunset provision was initially suggested by Council Vice President Pete Madden, and while other members of council agreed with the premise, nailing down an expiration date took a little longer.
Although the ordinance was passed on Thursday night, it will take 20 days to take effect. That means it will take effect on Dec. 1.
An expiration of anywhere between 30 and 90 days was considered, but Mayor Jay Gillian suggested the beginning of September due to the upcoming budget cycle followed by the summer season.
Hartzell agreed, saying the city administration had a clear idea of what it wanted and it was city council that had the questions.
Hartzell reminded council members of a little known policy that allows council to introduce legislation. It just needs three members of council to agree that it needs to be added to the agenda, similar to when council was deliberating whether it wanted to fill Michael Allegretto’s vacated council seat earlier this year.
“It doesn’t typically work that way. Usually, the administration brings legislation to us, but council is allowed to introduce legislation,” Hartzell said. “If anyone decides in February that they’re ready to discuss, they just need to get two other members of council to agree and it can be added to the agenda.”
Councilman Antwan McClellan suggested passing the ordinance as is and fixing it at a later date, but Hartzell said he wanted the sunset provision to force council to examine the issue and act.
Gillian also reminded council that if the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) issues concrete regulations before Sept. 8, their regulations would trump Ocean City’s ordinance.
The ordinance argues that drones, also known as unmanned aircraft, present an unreasonable and unacceptable threat to the rights of individual privacy and safety in Ocean City, as the unmanned aircraft have the capability to monitor people’s cell phone use.
The ordinance also states that drone technology is developing so rapidly that potential impacts on the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure is difficult to predict, and that the state and federal governments have yet to catch up with the technology.
On Thursday night, a few residents came out to oppose the ban on drones, saying there were good uses for drones, including for search and rescue missions.
City Solicitor Dorothy McCrosson said search and rescue missions would trump city ordinance.Some also questioned what a drone is, as did members of council.
The ordinance defines drones as “an unmanned aerial vehicle and/or an unmanned aircraft system.” McCrosson clarified that a model airplane a child would play with is not classified as a drone by this ordinance.
Council members also questioned how the ordinance would be enforced. The administration said that while no plan was currently in place, it would use the next 20 days to discuss enforcement options with the police department.
Overall, members of council considered the ordinance incomplete.
“I support the essence of what you’re trying to do with this ordinance, but it’s half baked,” Councilman Michael DeVlieger said. “It doesn’t consider the daily positives of these vehicles. It also doesn’t deal with the sale and possession of the drones. If they’re being sold and possessed, they’re going to be used.”
“I support the idea of a ban for safety and privacy. No one wants to be creeped out, but there are some instances where they can be helpful, but to say zero tolerance without a thought to the benefits, to use that broad a brush isn’t good management,” Councilman Anthony Wilson said.
“Every use is not a bad use,” Hartzell said. “I want the people who use them properly to be able to use them.”
“I don’t see the positives outweighing the negatives in this one,” Councilwoman Karen Bergman said, adding she wasn’t sure how the ordinance would be enforced. “I think we should ban it and continue to get more information.”
“This is a step in the right direction,” Councilman Peter Guinosso said. “We can’t regulate this. We have to ban it.”
The ordinance only applies to external use. People can still use drones inside, and owning a drone will not be outlawed altogether in Ocean City.
Anyone who violates the proposed ordinance would be subjected to a penalty of no more than $500 for the first offense and no more than $1,000 and/or 30 days in prison for each subsequent offense.