Pilots picket City Hall to get onerous ordinance repealed
“Repeal the Everett Law” read one sign. Another stated “JAX City Council discriminates against aviation.” An airplane towing a banner with a similar message flew overhead — all efforts by members of the Experimental Aircraft Association to sway the City Council of Jacksonville, Fla., to repeal an ordinance that bans the construction of aircraft on residential property within city limits.
Ordinance 2006-543-E, which was passed last year, bars anyone from building, repairing, testing, operating, modifying, or altering aircraft or airboats anywhere on a residential lot.
The ordinance evolved from a dispute between homebuilder Brian Kraut and his neighbors, Norma and Edward Everett.
Kraut says that the ordinance is part of a pattern of harassment from the Everetts.
“They called authorities to complain about everything from the way I park to when I take my trash cans in after trash day,” he said.
Kraut received warnings from zoning enforcement officials about parking vehicles on his property, including a project airplane that was on a trailer. There were numerous complaints made about a light he uses when working on his airplane, and noise from tools and an engine.
Eventually the issue wound up in court and, according to Kraut, when the Everetts did not get the results they wanted from a judge, they appealed to Councilman Lake Ray, who penned the ordinance prohibiting aircraft construction in residential areas.
Edward Everett counters that the issue is not about airplanes, it’s about a bad neighbor, saying 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 sometimes as late as one in the morning. Numerous times I asked him to curb the noise and turn out the light.”
After the ordinance was passed Kraut contacted EAA and created a website to raise awareness of the law. He says if city officials in Jacksonville could adopt a law that limits homebuilt aircraft, then it could happen in other cities as well.
“No copycat ordinances have been written thus far in other cities that we are aware of,” noted Earl Lawrence, EAA’s vice president of Industry and Regulatory Affairs.
Jacksonville EAA members launched an educational campaign in effort to get the City Council to repeal or at least amend the law.
“In February we went before the City Council,” says Milford Shirley, president of EAA Chapter 193. “A bunch of us spoke. After about the fourth or fifth person, Councilman Lake Ray, who sponsored the law, called us away from the meeting and said that the law was over-reaching and that he was going to fix it. He said ‘we will probably just repeal it and if we don’t do that then we will let you guys amend it so that you can live with it.’ He gave me his work email and phone but it took me four weeks to get hold of him. When we met with him and the attorney who wrote the law, the councilman said that repealing the law was now off the table but could not tell us why. We kept asking him why and he kept changing the subject.”
According to Shirely, an amendment that would allow homebuilders to get a variance was drafted. “It was something we could live with,” he said. “The staff recommended that the council accept the changes, but the Everetts showed up at the meeting and convinced the council not to go along with the staff recommendations. They told the planning commission that it was awful, like living next door to an airport. They talked about the noise, saying that Brian runs the engine all the time.”
Kraut is skeptical that he would get a variance, even if he did apply for one. “There has to be a public hearing before they grant you one and there is no way I would get one,” he said, adding “I really haven’t changed the way I do things since the ordinance was enacted. They have never ticketed me for working on my airplane in a closed garage and they never will because the law is unconstitutional. What I do in my garage is my business. I could be working on a car or a boat or building furniture and that is okay, but I can’t work on my airplane or airplane parts? There is no harm to anyone when I work on it in my garage.”
Edward Everett agrees that Kraut hasn’t changed his ways, noting that “He still works on airplanes in his garage. In the past year he has violated the noise factor when he pulled out the airplane and cranked the engine. He did it twice in the past year on a Sunday each time. As far as I am concerned they should never have put in the ordinance that you can store aircraft in your garage because he is going to work on them no matter what.”
Kraut says the complaints about engine noise are exaggerated.
“Very rarely do I have to run the engine,” he said. “I think I’ve run it no more than five or six times for no more than five minutes at a stretch. It is no louder than a lawn mower and it was run during the day.”
Kraut has been cited several times for storing an airplane in his backyard. Each fine is $500.
Kraut says he moved that airplane from the backyard to a hangar at the airport, which he is renting for $400 a month. Moving the project aircraft is not an option, he said. “It is very hard to move everything and it defeats the purpose of homebuilding if you have to go to the hangar. You have to drive all the way over there and need tools. When you build at your house, you can build, let’s say, 15 minutes before dinner. That’s why it sometimes takes 10 to 15 years to build an aircraft because it is a little here, a little there.”
General Aviation News made several attempts to reach Councilman Ray but they were unsuccessful as he was recently voted out of office. Councilman Clay Yarbough, who replaced him, said that he is aware of the issue.
“I only took office a month ago and this was an issue my predecessor oversaw,” said Yarbough. “He told me that this ordinance stemmed from an issue between two neighbors and never should have become an ordinance and gotten up as high as it did in government process. It has caused troubles and issues for the airplane folks and the neighbors and has gotten out of hand.”
The city council vice president has been given the task of setting up a meeting between the key players to come to a solution.
“The options are that the council could amend the ordinance or remove it from the books altogether or even make a more restrictive one,” Yarbough said.
For more information: JaxAirplane.com