City Council nixes drone ban following outcry from hobbyists

By: Joshua Gordon | Woodward Talk | Published April 30, 2015


When Ferndale residents got wind of the City Council possibly banning the use of drones anywhere in the city outside of private property, residents flooded the council chambers April 27 to protest the potential ordinance change.

Dubbed “dronegate” by Councilman Mike Lennon, the proposed change came about when a few residents expressed privacy concerns to Councilman Greg Pawlica. Pawlica went to City Attorney Dan Christ to draft an ordinance to restrict drones.

However, the voices of those who attended the meeting were heard, and the council turned down the proposed ordinance in favor of waiting to see how the Federal Aviation Administration would address drones in the next few months.

“This was extremely informative; these people coming up here, it really enlightened me,” Lennon said. “At a local level I don’t think this needs to be addressed, and I personally want to wait for the FAA decision, and I think the state or feds need to handle this. I think we need to educate ourselves a little further.”

The proposed ordinance banning drone use off private property defined a drone as "any device that uses aerodynamic force to provide lift and can fly autonomously or piloted with a remote." The ordinance also would have authorized law enforcement agencies to use drones on public property.

The nearly 15 people who spoke in favor of drone use on public property, mainly at city parks, were led off by Harry Arnold, who owns Detroit Drones and flies drones with a group of hobbyists in Detroit. Arnold said not only are drones toys, but they can provide inspiration for a younger generation.

“I have done a career day with the Detroit Fire Department, which is in the process of adopting drones, and seeing the kids’ faces light up when the drones came out and imagining the different purposes was great,” he said. “They are seeing the introduction of the drone, and I would humbly beg you guys not to do anything that would crush the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship that the drone era is ushering in.

“Nobody wants to disturb anyone at a park, but this can be done with a more piecemeal approach other than a blanket ban that would make Ferndale stick out as one of the only communities to adopt this.”

Much of the concern with drones has been the possible invasion of privacy. However, Ferndale resident Keith Dalton said the cameras on the drones that people commonly purchase are not advanced enough to photograph anything but landscaping; rather, a person would require a military-grade drone to have a camera capable of privacy invasion.

“I have been proud of Ferndale for always fighting to give people more rights and be ahead of the game and not taking things away,” Dalton said. “No one is flying to spy or invade your privacy or do anything nefarious at all. What you are doing by banning (drones) is stopping me and these guys from going to the park and flying around. If someone asks a drone guy not to fly over a kid playing basketball, we will say OK.”

Resident Michael Valentine agreed with Dalton that the drones are mostly used as toys, such as the one he owns and flies with his daughter.

“I think an outright ban is kind of ludicrous,” he said. “Nothing invades personal property more than a (smartphone), but we are not making an attempt to ban smartphones. We are planning this summer on going into the park and flying and doing things that teach younger children about engineering. The idea of a blanket ban on drones is ill-conceived.”

Councilwoman Melanie Piana said she remembers flying model airplanes when she was growing up and doesn't want to take that away from a younger generation.

“One thing you can always count on is (council) really takes residents’ concerns seriously, and if you have a complaint and talk to council, we really investigate it and address it,” she said. “I am of the opinion this needs more time. I really think we need to free the drones, and I think pop culture is fueling some of the fears. We should take a step back and look at what the FAA does.”

Pawlica ended the discussion by stating he was only doing his job as a councilman by looking into the concerns of other residents, and he was glad others stood up for what they believed.

“I brought this up because it was brought up by residents and they asked me to look into it,” he said. “It got your attention and now we know what Ferndale wants us to do.”