Concerned Lucketts area residents gathered at Lucketts Community Center Wednesday evening to express their dissatisfaction and worries about a planned drone flight facility near the village.
The company Xelevate, headed by president and co-founder Marcy Eisenberg, recently bought 66 mostly wooded acres off Taylorstown Road near Barnhouse Place to create the drone site. The facility will be a training and test site, where everyone from local students to the federal government can learn pilot drones and test out new designs. Eisenberg and other members of her team told locals that they hope the drones will not disrupt neighbors’ peace and quiet.
Attorney Colleen Gillis of Cooley LLP, representing the company, pledged the property will be at least as wooded as it is now and that virtually all of the drones will fly below the treetops, with a few exceptions. She also pointed to county ordinances that permit no more than 55 decibels of noise at the boundary of the property, about as loud as a casual conversation.
The limits on flying the drones depend on the company’s policies; under Federal Aviation Administration rules, drones weighing less than 55 pounds can fly up to 400 feet high and would not be restricted to the property. Xelevate’s operations manual, which all users will have to agree to, restricts flight to a limited area of the property that comes no closer than 100 feet to the nearest property line.
Some residents were also concerned that, despite the 500-foot grass runway from which the drones will operate, the county has classed it as a “Conference and Training Center” for zoning purposes. Others worried about drones getting off the property.
“Testing doesn’t imply that there are going to be failures, it assures there aare going to be,” said one attendee. Another worried about spooking horses:
“While it’s disturbing for someone to have a drone land in their yard, it can be life-threatening if that drone flies above me, for example if I’m riding a high-strung horse, right?” she said. “That could literally be the end of my life.”
Eisenberg assured residents her company plans to keep the drones low and under control. She mentioned both manufacturer safety precautions on most drones that cause them to automatically hold position, land, or return to their launching point if they lose contact with the controller. There will also be contained airspace where new drones will be tested before taking to the open skies.
“It’s important to use that you guys still live in harmony as you always have,” Eisenberg said.
The drone site is not far from completion. All that’s left to do is acquire a number of administrative permits, complete some site work to do. The remainder of the project includes leveling the runway, pouring a gravel driveway and parking lot, and building 26 eight by 20 foot shipping containers, which will be serve as lab space for clients tinkering with their designs. The company plans a grand opening in October.
The meeting Wednesday was organized and hosted by the Lucketts Ruritan.