Hempstead Town residents will no longer be able to fly drones or unmanned aircraft over town properties, beaches and parks after the town board on Tuesday unanimously passed a drone ban.
The law isn’t an outright ban of drones throughout the town, but it applies over public beaches, golf courses and parks, where town officials said residents are entitled to privacy.
Board members voted for the bill over protests by several residents, civil liberties attorneys and drone hobbyists who said the law is overreaching and infringes on their rights to fly drones in public airspace.
The vote was 5-0, with Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney abstaining.
Anyone found flying a drone over town properties could now be subject to a $500 fine or up to 15 days in jail for the first offense. Fines can be increased to $1,500 for a third offense.
Hempstead Supervisor Anthony Santino issued a statement that the town board was concerned that drones posed a danger that could inadvertently hit people, cars or animals.
Town officials also cited privacy concerns of drones spying or photographing residents on beaches or in changing rooms.
“Neighbors come to town beaches, pools, parks and preserves to enjoy peace, tranquility and privacy,” Santino said in the statement. “Our residents deserve to enjoy a safe setting at town facilities free of the noise and nuisance associated with drones.”
The town owns two drones that it uses to monitor the piping plover habitats in beach dunes and for promotional videos. Santino cited the habitat as an example of areas that need to be protected from drones.
Drone enthusiasts balked at the town’s assertions that drones were a violation of privacy or posed a threat to beachgoers or anyone in town parks. Several unmanned aircraft pilots who spoke at the meeting argued that the town did not have the authority to regulate airspace, which is regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration.
Town officials said the law complies with FAA requirements.
Drone pilots argued that while drones have cameras, pictures could also be taken by someone walking on a beach with a cellphone.
Adam Lisberg, spokesman for the world’s largest drone maker, DJI, said the law creates hysteria and punishes legal drone users.