Prairie Village council approves new ordinance regulating drone use on split vote

Photo credit UAVAIR Australia. Used under a Creative Commons license.

On a narrow vote Monday, the Prairie Village City Council adopted a new ordinance that will regulate the use of drones in the city .

Approval of the measure came three years after the governing body first began considering the idea in response to concerns about the potential for drones to pose a threat to privacy, among other issues.

The ordinance, approved on a 7-5 vote, makes it illegal to fly drones over someone else’s private property or above crowds without prior approval. The ordinance also includes provisions banning people from piloting drones while intoxicated or using them for surveillance purposes.

Mission Hills and Mission Woods have passed similar ordinances.

Penalties for a violation of the ordinance in Prairie Village could include a fine of up to $500 or a month in jail.

Mayor Eric Mikkelson has been a vocal proponent of the idea since its inception, and again on Monday argued strongly in favor of the ordinance’s adoption. Mikkelson noted that there have been a handful of incidents in which residents have complained about drones of unknown origin flying over their homes. He also cited the incident at the Jazz Festival in 2017 where a drone flying a banner over the Harmon Park hill spooked some in the crowd. With the proliferation of drones in the country, Mikkelson said, the concerns about how they are used is likely to grow.

“How ever many of these incidents we have had in the past, I think it’s a good bet we will have more in the future,” he said.

But other members of the governing body voiced concerns about enforceability and the potential to expose people to legal liability for minor violations made unintentionally. Councilwoman Serena Schermoly said she had purchased drones without cameras on them for her children. She said she was concerned that if a kid inadvertently piloted a drone over someone’s property, they could be found in violation of the ordinance.

Councilman Ron Nelson raised civil rights concerns, saying that, although he had every faith in the police department today, he worried that the ordinance as written had the potential to be misused in the future. He said there wasn’t enough of a problem with drone use in the city at this point to justify an ordinance.

“The concern is how good laws and good agencies can be turned to misuse at the desire of a single person or group of people,” Nelson said.

One resident who spoke, however, urged the council to adopt the measure, noting that she had had a drone of unknown origin fly over her own backyard when her kids were outside.

“Prairie Village should stay ahead of the curve and give the PVPD the necessary tools to address drone abuse,” said Inga Selders, who is running against Schermoly for the city council. “There are no real downsides in enacting this ordinance, but there are a number of downsides if we don’t.”

Councilmembers Jori Nelson, Tucker Poling, Sheila Myers, Terrence Gallagher, Chad Andrew Herring, Ted Odell and Dan Runion voted in favor of the ordinance. Councilmembers Schermoly, Ron Nelson, Andrew Wang, Brooke Morehead and Courtney McFadden voted against it.