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B.C. model-aircraft club wins appeal of ruling that grounded planes

KELOWNA, B.C. - Radio-controlled planes appear destined to return to the skies above a rural area in British Columbia's Okanagan Valley after the province's Appeal Court ruled in favour of a group of model-aircraft enthusiasts.

The District of Lake Country alleged members of the Kelowna Ogopogo Radio Controllers Association were violating a municipal zoning bylaw by flying their radio-controlled planes and helicopters from a plot of agricultural land north of Kelowna.

Last October, a B.C. Supreme Court judge sided with the district after concluding municipal bylaws that allow planes and helicopters to use agricultural land don't apply to model aircraft. The court issued an injunction ordering the club to stop.

But the B.C. Court of Appeal has overturned that decision, saying in a written decision released Tuesday that there's nothing in the district's bylaws that prevent radio-controlled aircraft on farmland.

"There is no evidence to suggest the club's recreational use of the property interferes with or disrupts its agricultural character," Justice Kathryn Neilson wrote in the unanimous ruling.

The club had an agreement with a landowner to use a grassy airstrip to launch radio-controlled aircraft, which generated noise complaints from nearby chicken farmers, equestrians and residents.

At issue was a section of the district's zoning bylaw that restricts land that is part of the province's Agricultural Land Reserve. Aside from farming, the bylaw lists a number of activities that are permitted, including using the land as an "unpaved airstrip or helipad for use of an aircraft flying non-scheduled flights."

The district argued the section of the bylaw was intended to allow farmers to use aircraft for agricultural purposes and was never meant to allow radio-controlled planes to buzz above farmland.

However, the Appeal Court said neither the bylaw nor provincial land regulations prevent non-agricultural aircraft from using farmland, so long as such activity doesn't "disrupt or change the essential agricultural character of the land."

The court ruled model planes are, in fact, covered by the "unpaved airstrip" exemption and overturned the earlier decision ordering the club to ground their planes.

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