Planning Board Continues Debate of Model Airplane Issue
Are model airplane clubs in the same category with civic clubs and Scouts?
The Moore County Planning Board pondered that question Thursday night when a tricky zoning issue returned to the agenda in the form of a proposed ordinance text amendment.
However, Fayetteville attorney Neil Yarborough didn't see it that way and said the county should enforce its own ordinance.
"This is a violation of your ordinance," Yarborough told the board. "You are considering taking action to legalize a violation of the zoning ordinance."
Yarborough represents Andy and Elizabeth Blackwell, of Raleigh, who plan to build on property near the rural area used by the Seven Lakes Model Airplane Club to fly its small planes.
The Blackwells filed a complaint with the county planning department about the use of the neighboring property, zoned for residential and agricultural purposes on five-acre lots. The complaint was aired at the March meeting of the planning panel, which authorized the planning staff to study the matter further and to make a recommendation.
Staff planner Robert Farrell was prepared with a proposed text amendment to the zoning ordinance to clarify the intent of the ordinance as it applies to outdoor recreation. Farrell said the ordinance does not directly address model aircraft hobbying, and there is no definition of outdoor recreation, but there are references to both athletic fields and outdoor recreation.
After the meeting, Yarborough told The Pilot that he intends to pursue efforts to force the county to enforce the zoning ordinance.
Yarborough said the planning staff has called it a violation in its own memorandum, which says, in part, "Because the flying of model airplanes is not addressed within the zoning ordinance, the activities on N.C. 73 are considered a violation of the ordinance."
During the meeting, Yarborough said that the Blackwells are not criticizing the model airplane club and have nothing against the hobby in general. It's just that the property is zoned RA-5, with the intent of protecting owners from the noise and traffic associated with dense development, he said. He noted that there are legal procedures to challenge such zoning issues, such as the Board of Adjustment.
"We're not asking you to change anything," Yarborough said.
Not Just Noise
Although Planning Director Joey Raczkowski advised that the purpose of the agenda item was not to debate the complaint but to discuss the proposed text amendments, the discussion quickly turned to debate about the model airplane club and its activities.
Bill Sherman, president of the Seven Lakes Model Airplane Club, was accompanied by 10 fellow club members.
Club spokesman Bob Thorne said club members operate their remote-controlled aircraft from 9 a.m. until noon a couple of days a week, depending on weather conditions. He said that the club requires members to have insurance.
The club holds a lease to fly hobby craft on about 60 acres of the Auman farm property off N.C. 73 near West End.
At the April board meeting, other club members defended their hobby and said it was no noisier than many other common items, such as lawn mowers and weed whackers.
As instructed by the Planning Board at the April meeting, Farrell had researched the decibel level of the model planes and of those motorized objects. He reported statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, which said the recommended permissible exposure ranges from an eight-hour exposure limit for noises measured at 85 decibels to a 3.25 minute exposure limit for 106 decibels.
Examples of the decibel readings by the model airplane club ranged from 52 to 58 decibels.
Research from a public/private partnership gave decibel readings for such common noise makers as fireworks and gunshots, ambulances, jackhammers, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, washing machines and typical speech, ranging from a high of 135 to 145 decibels for fireworks to 55 to 65 decibels for speech.
But Yarborough said the issue was not just noise, although that is a factor. He said the club's activities generate additional traffic in an area zoned to accommodate only traffic serving the residents.
When board member Rodney Pickler commented about the relatively low decibel readings for model aircraft, Yarborough responded, "I can assure you that, despite the decibels, you would not want it in your neighborhood."
Complaint Called 'Baseless'
Randy Merritt, a resident of Seven Lakes North, called the objections to the club activities "baseless." He said a complaint is usually based on allegations of nuisance or injury. Merritt said he is not a member of the club.
After the April meeting, Merritt said he called board member Dave Kinney and expressed his opinion that the complaint "was ludicrous." Merritt said the board should recommend approval of the text amendments to the board of commissioners.
The Blackwells expressed concern about misunderstandings stemming from reports of the April meeting, which they did not attend. Elizabeth Blackwell said they own the property in question and also own property on Pinehurst No. 8, and added that they filed the complaint personally, not through a real estate agent, as was rumored by other parties.
In rebuttal to Yarborough, Sherman said that other clubs, such as the Elks Lodge, Boy Scouts and gun clubs, are allowed in that zoning district. He said his club has been flying model planes in Moore and Montgomery counties for more than 25 years and that the hobby generates a minimum of traffic.
When the club first arranged for the lease on the Auman property, Sherman said letters were sent to the neighbors advising of club plans. At that time no complaints were received.
"We thought this was perfect," Sherman said.
Sherman said the club flies only two days a week and "we don't have more than four or five planes in the air at a time."
Subject to Interpretation
A couple of board members asked the planning staff if the model plane flights represent a violation, but no clear answer emerged.
Raczkowski said that a liberal interpretation of the ordinance would allow the usage under the club definition.
Farrell said the ordinance does allow clubs, but typically a club is expected to meet in a place - Elks, fraternal orders and Scout groups being examples.
In addition to listing outdoor recreation as a permitted use in some zoning districts, the proposed text amendments include definitions of a model airplane and outdoor recreation, neither defined in the existing ordinance.
The proposed definition of a model airplane is, "A model aircraft not intended for carrying or transporting humans capable of sustained fight in the atmosphere utilized exclusively for sport or recreation. Such aircraft may be propelled by electric, gasoline, or other type of propulsion and controlled from the ground utilizing radio waves or other kinds of remote control."
The proposed definition of outdoor recreation is, "Passive and active recreational uses conducted primarily outdoors with associated accessory structures for the support of such outdoor activities which typically consist of: horseback riding trails, bicycling trails, saddle clubs, community rodeos, model airplane flying, and athletic fields, as well as amenities for spectators to such activities."
Yarborough questioned the model airplane definition, which he said was the definition furnished by the model plane club. He noted that model planes are the only use involving motorized outdoor activity listed in the proposed outdoor recreation definition.
The hearing ended with the planning board agreeing to table the issue until a future meeting when the staff can return with additional information.
Contact Florence Gilkeson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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