City Council on Thursday unanimously approved the first reading of an ordinance that would ban the use of drones in any airspace at any height over Ocean City, NJ.
A public hearing and second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for 7 p.m. Nov. 12 at City Hall. If passed the measure would become law 20 days later.
The ordinance bans drones “from airspace within five miles of the Ocean City Airport.” That radius includes all of Ocean City.
Violations would be punishable by a fine not more than $500 for a first offense and a fine up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to 30 days for each subsequent offense.
The ordinance lists the following threats presented by drones:
- “The capability to watch individuals and groups without notice and without their permission in an unprecedented way.”
- “The capability to monitor cell phone and text-messaging.”
- “A potential threat to aircraft, which is of particular concern in Ocean City because it operates a public airport frequented by small aircraft.”
- “An unreasonable and unacceptable threat to the rights of individual privacy and safety.”
- “Potential impacts (because technology is developing so rapidly) on safety, privacy and Fourth Amendment rights that are difficult to predict.”
While he voted in favor on the first reading, Councilman Mike DeVlieger said, “I’d like us to consider certain instances where we allow it by permit.”
DeVlieger said the devices have useful applications in emergency searches, photography, construction and other areas. He said the uses are worth discussing at the next reading.
Councilman Tony Wilson supported DeVlieger, saying drones can be beneficial in some instances, including in marketing.
“I’m all for the safety and privacy of everyone in Ocean City,” Wilson said.
But he said the city might consider “some instances for use in a small window (of time) under proper regulation.”
But Mayor Jay Gillian argued for holding firm on a full ban on drone use over a densely populated island where all airspace is shared by so many in close quarters. He called it a matter of privacy and public safety.
“We have to put something in place, because it’s going to get out of control,” Gillian said.
Ocean City would be among the very first towns in New Jersey to adopt such a measure.
When Long Beach Township passed a similar drone ban in May 2015, Mayor Joseph Mancini said he knew of no other New Jersey municipality that had already done so.
Councilman Pete Guinosso suggested calling for neighboring towns and Cape May County to adopt similar measures.
“I think we need to expand this a little more,” he said.
In public comment, Ocean City residents Loretta Geary, Georgina Shanley and Steve Fenichel each thanked the administration for drafting the ordinance and spoke in favor of it.
Recreational drones — small and light battery-operated devices that typically include multiple helicopter-shaped rotors — are increasingly common sights. They cost anywhere from $100 to $5,000 with high-priced models carrying more sophisticated cameras and flying for longer periods of time over greater range.
The devices have produced spectacular video of everything in Ocean City from aerial scenery to coastal erosion from the northeast gale earlier this month (see YouTube index of Ocean City drone videos). They also have become an increasingly common tool in showcasing real estate in Ocean City.
But drones also have the potential to become a nuisance, an invasion of privacy and even to carry weapons..
Federal Aviation Administration “guidelines” ask recreational operators to fly their devices no higher than 400 feet and to seek permission if they fly anywhere within five miles of an airport.
But beyond the FAA guidelines, there’s little in the law to govern the relatively new devices.
A drone flying over a football scrimmage between Ocean City High School and Middle Township High School interrupted play for about 20 minutes in August. (Read more: Drone Buzzes O.C. Football Game, Flies Off Into Legal Void.)
Parents and spectators watching the game reported the small remote-controlled device flying close to the field then moving back and forth in an apparent attempt to buzz by different players during the delay in the game.
By the time police were notified, the drone had flown away.
But even if the owner had been identified, police would have been in uncharted territory with no laws directly applicable to the use of drones.
“It’s going to become a bigger problem as they become cheaper and easier to purchase,” Ocean City Police Capt. Steve Ang said at the time.
A Lower Township man was indicted on charges of possession of a firearm for an unlawful purpose and criminal mischief in August for allegedly blasting a drone out of the sky near his home with a shotgun.
The drone owner told investigators he was using it to capture photographs of his friend’s house, which was under construction.
See full text of the proposed local ordinance in the Agenda Packet for the meeting.