At its next workshop meeting on October 3, the Rosendale Town Board will open a public hearing on a proposed local law amending Chapter 75 of the town code to outlaw the launch or landing of “any airplane or helicopter” within the town, except for emergencies or by special permit. Part of the new language specifically defines “aircraft” as “a mechanically propelled vehicle capable of transporting humans in flight,” thereby excluding drones from the ban. A new paragraph, 75-9 G, was drafted by town attorney Mary Lou Christiana to read as follows:
“No person, firm, corporation or other entity shall operate or cause to be operated any aircraft as defined in Section 74-56 of the Chapter, on, to or from any lands or waters within the Town of Rosendale, and no property owner, occupant or tenant shall allow any aircraft to take off from or land on lands under his or her control, or allow for the embarkment/disembarkment of persons, or the delivery of products on or over lands under his or her control, except:
(a) When required for military or governmental purposes or for medical or police emergencies; or
(b) When specifically authorized by the Town Board.”
The proposed change comes in response to complaints about persistent nearby helicopter activity from residents of Burrs Crossing, a road that runs parallel to Route 213 on the opposite side of the Rondout Creek. Ron and Barbara Schade and Denise Dehardt represented the group at the September 12 Rosendale Town Board meeting. According to the group, a neighbor who lives at 617 Route 213 frequently flies in and out or his property, or receives deliveries, via a helicopter charter service based in Westchester County. The residents petitioning the town for redress claim that the helicopters sometimes land right alongside the state highway, and even in the creekbed itself. Dehardt said that the aircraft frequently hovers right over her property. “It started four years ago,” said Ron Schade.
Also speaking at the meeting was Rosendale Police chief Perry Soule, who reported the results of his attempts to get clarification from the Federal Aviation Administration about whose responsibility it is to enforce laws protecting civilians from intrusive aircraft activity. Chief Soule said that an FAA representative had told him that the evidence that he had sent — both still photographs and videotapes of the helicopter — did not constitute a violation of FAA regulations.
“Helicopters are exempt from most aviation rules,” Soule explained. “We need to supply a video with some ‘reckless’ operation. We need to identify the pilot. I sent a video in which the helicopter landed, spewing an enormous amount onto 213, which I considered to be a hazard.”
“No person may operate an aircraft in a reckless or careless manner, so as to endanger the life and property of another,” Ron Schade contended. “Isn’t landing six feet from 213 on a blind curve a hazardous situation?”
The consensus seemed to be that expecting help from the FAA would be fruitless, and a local law would be needed, enabling Rosendale’s code enforcement officer to impose fines for violations. According to the FAA spokesman consulted by the local police force, the agency would not enforce local codes even if the law were changed. “We don’t want to create a law that we can’t do anything with,” Soule cautioned. “We need to make sure it’s enforceable.”
“It’s harder to hide a helicopter than a chicken or a peacock,” said councilwoman Jen Metzger, in reference to the town’s long-debated “chicken law.” Metzger also expressed “concerns about them landing in the Rondout Creek, which is a recreational water body,” calling such activity a “total hazard.”
Councilman Matt Igoe sketched out a step-by-step plan of action for the Town Board, beginning with holding a public hearing, adopting the new local law, and then sending copies of it to every helicopter taxi service in the state by way of warning. The offending property owner and a neighbor whose land is regularly used for takeoffs and landings should also receive notifications, Igoe suggested.
Town attorney Christiana warned the petitioners that there might be a fight ahead to get the new law passed and elicit cooperation from the helicopter user. “Your part’s really important,” she told Dehardt and the Schades. “You need to be willing to sign affidavits and come to court.” The aggrieved residents said that they were prepared to continue pursuing the matter as long as necessary.
All Rosendale residents are welcome to participate in the public hearing on the draft local law, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, October 3. It will take place at the Rondout Municipal Center, which is located at 1921 Lucas Avenue in Cottekill.