City Council considers the local effect of new state legislation

rarriaza@vagazette.com

At a work session on June 11, City Attorney Christina Shelton and interim City Manager Andrew Trivette briefed City Council on the effects of new legislation passed through the General Assembly in its 2018 session.

At the meeting, Shelton and Trivette outlined new zoning, public safety and wireless infrastructure laws, which City Council may have to adapt to and implement within the coming months.

“This is not intended to an exhaustive update of everything that happened in the General Assembly,” Shelton said. “It’s just meant to be an overview of things that may be of interest to City Council or that City Council is going to see again in the next few months.”

Of particular interest is HB 508, which allows certain building and ground-mounted solar and thermal facilities, such as panels, to be used by right in all of the city’s zoning districts, provided they comply with height and setback requirements.

According to Shelton, solar panels installed in the city’s Architectural Preservation and Corridor Protection districts will still be subject to the regulations set by the Architectural Review Board.

“I know there are several groups involved with solar energy that would love to provide some input and guidance on that,” said Councilman Benny Zhang.

The body also discussed HB 638, which places new restrictions on the usage of unmanned drones in the state. The legislation prohibits “knowing and intentional trespass” by a drone within 50 feet of a home “to coerce, intimidate or harass another person.”

The legislation also prohibits drone operators from following people or taking photos of a person’s face or likeness without their permission.

“A lot of this is designed to protect people’s privacy, so you’re not flying a drone and looking inadvertently into somebody’s bedroom window,” said Councilman Douglas Pons.

Mayor Paul Freiling said the difficulty of interpreting a person’s intentions may cause the law to backfire.

“When we’re talking about cameras with incredible resolutions that are now available on these vehicles, you could just be randomly taking a picture and be able to capture the image of lots of people, intentionally or otherwise,” Freiling said. “I think there are a lot of ways that you can interpret this that would be very complicated and may not necessarily be accomplishing the intent of what this is seeking.”

As with any trespassing case, Shelton says drone operators will need to be found to have had malicious intentions beyond a reasonable doubt.

“What they’re trying to get at here is using a drone to harass,” Shelton said. “It is like any other trespass, so it is a knowing and intentional act. You have to prove an intent for a criminal act.”

Other pertinent laws include SB 1258, which allows the installation of wireless support structures of 50 feet tall or less in all zoning districts, and HB 609, which allows council to adopt ordinances that require smoke alarms to be provided in all buildings containing “one or more dwelling units,” such as hotels, motels and rental apartments.

Shelton said council may see ordinances reflecting changes made by these new laws as early as its next regular meeting on July 12.

City Council will reconvene at 2 p.m. Thursday, where it will consider three zoning and permit requests and agreements from Cox and AT&T to install small cell wireless facilities and wireless support structures in the city.

Arriaza can be reached at 757-790-9313 or on Twitter @rodrigoarriaza0.

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