Conoy Township passes ordinance that limits drones' air space

Conoy Township on Thursday became the first municipality in Pennsylvania to regulate drones.

Conoy Township supervisors approved an ordinance Thursday that regulates remote-controlled airplanes, an action that makes it the first municipality in Pennsylvania to set rules about airborne drones.

But the move didn't get much of a rise out of the two dozen people who attended the supervisors meeting at which the ordinance was passed.

"It's a nonevent," said Craig Peck, owner of Flying Media in Lancaster, which specializes in aerial photography from remote-controlled aircraft. "We certainly don't fly over neighborhoods."

Peck, who had recently been publicly critical of the ordinance, said after the meeting that there wasn't anything unreasonable in what the supervisors passed

"Everybody just needs to behave themselves," he said.

The new ordinance mostly deals with nuisances such as junked cars, garbage and high grass. But it also contains a section that prohibits "the operation of remote-controlled or other non-tethered aircraft over property not owned by the operator and without permission of the property owner."

While some of the discussion about that part of the ordinance has focused on privacy issues, Matt Creme, the township's solicitor, said that wasn't the point.

"This has nothing to do with privacy. This has to do with people who are or may be disturbed in the enjoyment of their property through the flying of remote-controlled or non-tethered aircraft," Creme said.

"It is not about taking photographs; it is about flying over private property without the permission of that property owner," he added.

During the 23-minute public hearing on the ordinance, most of the discussion from supervisors focused on how and when it can be used to regulate junked cars or buildings in disrepair.

Creme said the ordinance specifies that such things actually have to be creating a public problem to qualify as a nuisance under the new ordinance. For example, it is not enough for vehicles to just be unregistered or out of inspection, he said.

While the township had previously addressed such issues elsewhere in its zoning guidelines, this new ordinance tightens the regulatory language.

Violations of any part of the ordinance could result in a fine of up to $300.

During the public comment period of the hearing, four residents addressed the part about remote-controlled airplanes.

One person expressed concern about whether the ordinance would affect flying planes in a public park (it won't), two wondered who to call if they see a plane flying over their property (the police or a township official) and one pointed out apparent typographical errors in the written ordinance.

Supervisor Stephen Mohr said the township was trying to be proactive with the new regulations, while saying he didn't imagine that people will rebel against the new rules.

"We expect compliance. We don't expect it to be a major problem," he said.

Gina Mariani, chairwoman of the board of supervisors, said the ordinance would only impact extreme cases.

"It is just for the people that decide they're going to start flying over everything," she said.