Ultralights Flying by the Rules…Sept. 9, 2015

By Nancy Arsenault
“For my wife and me, the mental stress was terrible, much worse than worrying about the money we spent,” said Rob Albright, owner of Crow Island Airpark that hosts primarily ultralight planes for recreational flying. With a Zoning Board of Appeals decision recently issued to overturn the Building Inspector’s cease and desist order for flying activities on the island, Albright is now legally allowed to resume flights – as he has been doing since the 1970s, according to testimony offered to the ZBA.

The  cease and desist order, issued this past spring, not only stopped Albright’s flying activities but also halted construction plans for a new aircraft hangar on the property – a project for which donated funds had already been collected to purchase raw materials for the construction, said Albright earlier this year.

Albright stated that engaging legal representation and appealing the Building Inspector’s order over the past several months had cost him well over $20,000.  “And I bet the Town spent a lot more with town counsel,” he surmised.

The result of that appeal ultimately brought him back to where he was before the order: flying and hosting ultralights, Piper Cubs and other similarly sized aircraft into and out of the recreation/conservation zoned land on Crow Island.

The Board determined that Albright’s flying activities on Crow Island existed prior to the 1982 bylaw that prohibited flying activities in Town. Therefore, those that existed prior to the bylaw, should be grandfathered in and may continue to exist today, their decision said.

Asked if the activities taking place on the island today are any different than those prior to 1982, Albright said everything is virtually the same, including the size of the machines being flown.  The Board determined that while Albright and his club had been hosting recreational flying there for the past several decades, it appeared that the Town had never issued a formal approval; a condition that was specified in the pre-1982 bylaws.

“Neither Mr. Albright nor the prior owners of Crow Island ever endeavored to veil or conceal the landing field, aircraft activity or aircraft storage on the property. In fact, permits for the storage structures were issued by the Town,” reads the ZBA decision.  “The Board finds that an overly strict interpretation of the 1968 Bylaw (that which existed prior to 1982)) so as to render a permitted use ‘unlawful’ simply because a technical requirement was not observed, is neither required nor equitable under the circumstances of this case,”  wrote the ZBA in their decision.

Reverting back to the rules that existed prior to 1982, the ZBA ordered Albright to submit a site plan approval application to Craig Martin, Building Inspector, outlining the uses planned for his property. This would detail the flying, storage of aircraft, plus specifications such as drainage, utility use, etc.

Martin said last week, as he awaited Albright’s submission,  that he believed there would be no roadblocks to the approval. “What he is doing over there is really something very simple. There is no electricity. There is no plumbing. It’s a former sand and gravel pit so there is no issue with drainage. Accessibility is also fine and the flying is an allowed use,” said Martin. Albright said his site plan was approved by the close of business on Friday.

Going Forward with Halted Construction Plans
With the site plan approval in hand, Albright is now free to pursue the building permit for a hangar he plans to construct to offer expanded enclosed storage for  ultralights. “With the flying an approved use, the hangar is also an approved use of the land,” said Albright, a statement also supported by the ZBA in their decision document.