South Elgin eases rules on hobby drones after resident's fight

Drone hobbyists no longer need a permit to fly over public parks in South Elgin - with the exception of SEBA Park, which is off limits - after a resident objected to the village's restrictions.

The village board made changes to its drone regulations by requiring only commercial operators, not hobbyists, to get a permit based on their time and place of operation.

All drone fliers can't fly within 100 feet of playgrounds and group activities such as sporting events. They also must stay away from SEBA Park, where kids with disabilities who enjoy its all-inclusive playground could be negatively affected by a drone flying overhead.

Resident Keith Kmieciak fought a $50 citation he received Sept. 7 for flying his drone over Jim Hansen Park, which was dismissed last week when Kmieciak agreed to get a permit. The episode prompted the village to revise its regulations, Village President Steve Ward said.

"We put a blanket ordinance (earlier this year) because we needed safety in the parks," Ward said. "Basically, (Kmieciak) made us analyze it and look at it, and decide what we wanted to change."

The Federal Aviation Administration released new rules Aug. 29 regarding "small unmanned aircraft." It also has separate guidelines for model aircraft.

The village took all that into account when crafting the new ordinance, Village Attorney Derke Price said.

"It was the coming together of the new understanding of these new FAA regulations, laws and the concerns of both parties," he said.

Kmieciak said he was pleased. "The only thing that I ever wanted from Day One was the ordinance changed, because of the broadness of it."

However, he and his attorney, Jeffrey Antonelli, still argue that only the FAA, not any local or state government, has the authority to regulate airspace.

"I am a satisfied that my client is happy with being able to fly into the park, essentially whenever he chooses with very few restrictions. And these restrictions seem to be what most people would think of as common sense," Antonelli said.

The village did report Kmieciak to the FAA after a landscape contractor complained Kmieciak flew his drone over workers Sept. 7, Price said. The FAA also has rules that prevent hobbyists' model aircrafts from flying over groups of people. Representatives of the company, Sweet Home Landscaping, did not respond to a request for comment. Kmieciak said he's not concerned about being reported to the FAA.

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