CAPE ELIZABETH — Rather than create a new set of regulations for town-owned property, the Town Council hopes to educate people about existing federal rules governing airborne drones.
The town will also charge those who use drones for commercial photography and filming in Fort Williams Park the same fees that already apply for on-the-ground advertising and commercial work, which range from $250 to $2,000.
During a June 5 workshop, the council also discussed traffic-calming measures for the town center, and heard recommendation to make Spurwink School the new home of the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society.
Chairwoman Jessica Sullivan said discussions about drone use at Fort Williams were spurred as far back as four years ago by concerns about safety and privacy from nearby residents.
Formally known as Unmanned Aircraft Systems, drones are already subject to regulation by the FAA and must be registered for commercial and recreational use if they weigh between 0.55 and 55 pounds.
FAA regulations stipulate that commercial and recreational drones must be flown below 400 feet, remain within their operator’s line of sight and can’t be flown near airports, manned aircraft, stadiums or people, among other stipulations.
In a memo to the council, attorney Michael Hill said municipalities in other states have implemented prohibitions on launching and flying drones over municipal parks, with the exception of use by law enforcement or emergency services. However, he said, some of those ordinances have been successfully challenged.
Still, Hill said it could be argued that because drone use is not explicitly listed as a permitted use in the Fort Williams master plan, it could be considered prohibited.
Still, councilors were not convinced they could successfully regulate the use. Councilor Valerie Randall suggested the town wait and see how other municipalities’ regulations stand up in court before considering its own.
For now, councilors agreed they should learn more about regulations and how they’re enforced, what operators are required to do before launching a drone, who should be called with concerns about drone use, and what police can do to help ensure federal law is being upheld.
This information, the council said, could be shared with the public via educational handouts distributed by park rangers.
The council discussion about traffic flow and pedestrian safety in the town center, where Route 77 intersects with Scott Dyer and Shore roads, isn’t new. Concerns have been aired for at least 12 years, they said.
Randall suggested revisiting the idea of a traffic light in the town center, which the council rejected in 2009. Councilors Chris Straw and Sara Lennon also said they don’t think a light is the answer.
Straw said he would favor a small roundabout, similar to the one at Legion Square in South Portland, where Cottage Road, Ocean and E streets intersect, which could help reduce speed.
The council will also consider how roads could be narrowed to restrict cars from passing to the right of cars stopped at crosswalks.
“We need to take a brand-new look at everything in this intersection,” Sullivan said.
The Spurwink School Reuse Committee has recommended moving the Cape Elizabeth Historical Preservation Society from the Police Department’s former dispatch center to the vacant Spurwink School.
The historic schoolhouse was built in 1849 on Bowery Beach Road, but was eventually moved to Scott Dyer Road. It served as the town’s temporary library during the recent $4 million renovation of Thomas Memorial Library, but has been vacant since.
The committee also received interest in the space from the school department, Cape Care and the Cape Elizabeth Senior Center, but ultimately decided CEHPS would be the best fit.
Still left to be determined is how improvements to the building to make it suitable for occupancy will be paid for, whether the town will lease or donate the building to CEHPS and where parking could be added.
According to CEHPS President Jim Rowe, early estimates for the renovation came in at around $250,000. He said the society does not expect the town to fully fund this and expects to have “skin in the game.”
“I have every confidence in the world that we can go out and raise some serious money,” he added.
The council is likely to vote during their regular meeting in June or July to direct town staff to work with CEHPS to “draft any updates to the existing agreement between the town and the organization, or develop a new memorandum of understanding if necessary, with mutually agreeable terms of occupancy,” as well as provide the council with cost estimates for necessary improvements.
The Cape Elizabeth Town Council hopes to educate people about existing federal regulations, rather than create their own set of rules governing drone use over town-owned properties like Fort Williams Park.