New Jacksonville law targets homebuilders in Florida city

Are you one of the thousands of people building an aircraft at home? How would you like it if your city council passed an ordinance outlawing this activity? Brian Kraut, a pilot and aircraft builder in Jacksonville, Fla., says that’s what happened in his town.

According to Kraut, a new law, Ordinance 2006-543-E, bans the hobby of building homebuilt aircraft, restoring aircraft, or storing an airplane in a residential district in other than a completely enclosed building.

“It also prohibits working on or repairing an aircraft or airboat anywhere on your property,” says Kraut. “This ordinance deprives me of my rights to use my property.”

According to Kraut, the new law, passed June 13, was created because of problems he had with his next-door neighbors, Norma and Edward Everett.

Kraut has lived in the neighborhood for approximately eight years. The Everetts have been there for 39.

“The problems began a little over a year and a half ago,” Kraut said. “The Everetts began calling city officials to complain about everything from how and where I park my vehicles to me not taking in my trash cans in a timely manner on trash day to how long the lawn is.”

Edward Everett says Kraut’s allegations of constant complaints are exaggerated. The issue, said Everett, is not so much about airplanes but that Kraut is not considerate of his neighbors when he pursues his hobby.

“He builds airplanes on his driveway, which is 10 feet from our bedroom window,” Everett said. “He’d be out there at night until 9, 10, 11, sometimes as late as 1 in the morning. Numerous times I asked him to curb the noise and turn out the light. He had a halogen light and pointed it to my bedroom. I went over and knocked on the door and asked him to turn it off. He informed me that I was trespassing and to get off his property.”

Neighborhood relations continued to deteriorate. There were several complaints to the police and the city zoning enforcement division until Kraut and the Everetts eventually faced off in court.

“I told the judge about all the noise and racket. It’s like living next to a shipyard,” said Everett. “Mr. Kraut has an industrial air compressor that he uses that is very loud. Then there was the time he started up the engine and blew gas and oil on our lawn. I was amazed the city did nothing about that. He told the court that he did the work inside the garage, which was an untruth.”

In June 2005 the court ruled that Kraut could keep his airplane project on his property as long as he worked on it inside the garage or kept the airplane in the backyard hidden by a fence.

According to Jeff Ludwig, the attorney who represented Kraut, when the neighbors did not get the results they wanted through the courts, they appealed to City Councilman Ray Lake to create the ordinance.

“The ordinance targets a singular problem as opposed to a community problem,” said Ludwig.

Attempts to interview the councilman were unsuccessful. His assistant referred us to Dylan Reingold, assistant general counsel for the city of Jacksonville, who drafted the ordinance.

“This ordinance was the result of a code enforcement case,” Reingold confirmed.

Charlie Wilson, supervisor of code enforcement for the city, said that having an airplane outside on a property is “not in keeping with the residential character” of the neighborhood. In addition, he said, city codes require that any work on any vehicle be done indoors.

“When you are working on the engine or taking parts off a vehicle, be it a car, a boat or motorcycle or whatever, then you are supposed to be in an enclosed building,” said Wilson. “Mr. Kraut didn’t want to do that with the airplane. He refused to keep it in the garage and he wanted to run it and work on it late at night when it disturbed his neighbors.”

Kraut counters that the city already has noise and nuisance laws in place but he was not cited under those. After the June 2005 ruling Kraut thought the issue was put to rest, but it resurfaced in March 2006 when the ordinance was drafted.

“Although it was written to target me, Councilman Lake didn’t even tell me about it,” said Kraut. He contends the public notice of the proposed ordinance as required by law was published in an obscure local newspaper and that he didn’t learn about it until he was cited for breaking it.

Concerned that the Jacksonville ordinance would set a precedent impacting other aircraft homebuilders and aviation hobbyists around the country, Kraut notified the Experimental Aircraft Association.

“This was probably a well-intentioned ordinance but, like many laws, it has unintentional ramifications and we are worried about this setting a precedent,” stated EAA spokesman Dick Knapinski, adding that the EAA is studying the situation.

Kraut also created a website, JaxAirplane.com, to educate the public.

Edward Everett notes that the passage of the ordinance has not improved relations in the neighborhood. Most recently Kraut erected a 6-foot-tall privacy fence between their homes and painted the side that faces the Everett’s home “Pepto-Bismol pink to harass me and my wife.”

Kraut admits the color of the fence was done in retaliation.

“You can only take so much,” he explained.

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