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Photo courtesy of Winter Park Photography - The Winter Park City Commission is considering regulating drones after a boom in their popularity has led to privacy concerns.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Friday, Mar. 10, 2017 10 months ago

Winter Park studies new drone regulations following privacy complaints

Winter Park ponders laws
by: Tim Freed Associate Editor

The unsettling, nagging feeling that you’re being watched.

That’s what Winter Park resident Sally Flynn said she experienced last month while swimming in her pool outside her home – the latest incident of a drone invading someone’s privacy in Winter Park. But a series of laws regulating the flying devices is slowly floating its way toward the Winter Park City Commission.

City Attorney Kurt Ardaman told City Commissioners during their Feb. 27 meeting that they can expect to see a draft of a drone ordinance before their next meeting on Monday.

Flynn had requested an update on the ordinance after her recent drone encounter.

“I swam in my cold pool this week and when I got out there was a drone up,” Flynn told the Commission. “It really does feel like an invasion of privacy. In fact, I was pretty startled by it to tell you the truth.”

Winter Park began considering a drone ordinance last May when City Commissioner Greg Seidel’s wife was harassed by a drone while paddle boarding on Lake Virginia.

She wrote to the City Commission that she was continuously approached by the drone, and that it wasn’t until she threw a handful of seaweed at the device that it left her alone.

“She almost got hit by a drone and it came back at her,” Commissioner Seidel said during the May 9 City Commission meeting.

But Winter Park isn’t the only city in Central Florida looking at regulating drones. Orlando passed its own ordinance in January. That ordinance declares it unlawful to operate a drone while under the influence of alcohol, pilot a drone within 500 feet of a venue or public event, or to operate a drone with the intent to harass or secretly observe someone, among many other restrictions.

Ardaman said the Winter Park ordinance will take a more “extensive” approach than the Orlando ordinance.

“We’re going to be as aggressive as a city can be,” Ardaman told Commissioners last month at the Feb. 27 meeting.

“People feel like they’re being spied on,” Winter Park City Manager Randy Knight said. “The ordinance will deal with that the best it can.”

The FAA currently requires all drones to be registered for safety and security reasons under federal law. Failing to register a drone could result in criminal penalties that include fines of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years, according to the FAA website.

Winter Park resident Steve Graffham, who uses a drone with his business, Winter Park Photography, said he understands why the city is looking to add extra regulations on top of the FAA rules.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Graffham said.

“I did see [a drone] recently up and over houses. I’m not particularly bothered myself because the resolution isn’t fantastic … but I understand there are privacy issues.”

The Winter Park resident uses drones to photograph hotels at vacation destinations around the world, as well as buildings and projects under construction. But that comes with its own unique set of challenges, like figuring out the rules and regulations for each city and area he visits to do a project. Graffham said he must constantly reference aviation maps online to make sure he’s not flying in a restricted area of the sky.

“It does get in the way,” Graffham said. “If you’re doing work in your local area, that’s all well and good, but it limits you from casting a wider net.”

“Very often people want the job done the next day or soon after, so it can be limiting in that sense.”

Four years ago when Graffham purchased his first drone, the devices were usually called “quadcopters,” he said. People were reluctant to even use the word “drone,” since that term was associated with the military versions that carry explosive payloads and other weaponry, Graffham said.

But people are more accepting of drones today than they were even a couple years ago, he said, adding that it’s up to cities, drone users and the public to work together and find the right compromises.

“It’s a brand-new industry; it’s still finding its feet,” Graffham said. “It will take time for things to settle down, because it’s all brand new for everybody.”

“When rules and regulations come out, there’s normally a good reason for it and people have looked into it. You have to trust the process. In the long run, if we can stop any accidents from happening now, things will be easier in the future.”

The City Commission will have a chance to review the draft ordinance before it’s sent off to the Federal Aviation Administration, who will make their own critiques and comments before it comes back to the City Commission for a formal vote of adoption.

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