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Virginia's Valley Aerospace Team rocket club grounded

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VERONA, Virginia USA — A local model rocketry club had its engines cooled Thursday by the Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals in a 3-1 vote that denied the Valley Aerospace Team (VAST) a special use permit that would have allowed it to continue firing rockets from a 483-acre Swoope property off Livick Road. This site is not the proper place, said George Coyner II, in making the motion to deny the permit. Charles Neff Jr., president of VAST, said he will likely appeal the decision. For 14 months, the club used the property of Bill Croft an average of one weekend a month to launch the rockets. But the club's presence came under scrutiny in July after a neighbor wrote a letter of complaint to Croft, Neff said.

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cornyl

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A special use permit? I never heard of such a thing.
I think it is time for Nar and Tripoli to look into this.
There has to be more to this story than meets the eye.
How can a town possibly get 100 signatures against this rocket group?

CornyL
 

Chrisn

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100 signatures? Is the town really that dense of a population?

More than likely 25x4 person familys who all signed it?
 

quickburst

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Very sad, we had something similar happen to us. In the end we lost.
 

rstaff3

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This is really bad news. I was hoping to get out there one day.

The use of public parks is even more tenuous. One complaint can lose a field.
 

GuyNoir

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Guys,

First, here's an article I wrote back in May 1999 about this kind of thing:

Gilbert, AZ - Going, Going, Gone?
By Mark "Bunny" Bundick, NAR President

A story is unfolding in Arizona that probably won't hit your local paper. But it will impact your hobby. The City Council of Gilbert, AZ, a Phoenix suburb, tomorrow night, will debate an ordinance that will ban flying model rockets in their parks. An intensive local effort, led by Dave Lewicki, Peter Riddell, and other members of the Superstition Spacemodeling Society, is underway to attempt to head off this ordinance. But the issue is in doubt.

If we lose Gilbert, it may be the first of many more launch site losses. While you can say, "it won't happen here", don't bet on it. While many NAR members tell me, "Bunny, quit worrying. We can't fly HPR models from those sites anyway", I categorically reject that argument. The fastest way I know of to cripple any rocket club is to stop them from flying. You do that by denying them use of a local launch field.

Without the locally accessible launch site for your younger members, you will lose the next generation of "born again rocketeers". Many of you have written me to describe your return to the hobby after completing your education, finding a job and setting up a household. Without your exposure to rockets during your younger days, I have some doubt you would have returned to the hobby.

The local flying field also makes a good place to offer your services to other organizations in the community. Every flying season, my mailbox fills with newsletters describing club efforts flying rockets with school classes, YMCA groups, Boy Scouts, church and science clubs. Unless your field is locally accessible, your attendance at such events, and then your club's membership will drop. You also miss the opportunity to "strut your stuff" to parents, teachers, group leaders and, most importantly, public safety officials. "Out of sight; out of mind" applies to rocket clubs, too.

If your launch site is under attack, what should NAR members do? Is there a way to stem the tide, or do you simply move 60 miles out of the city to the wide open spaces and hope for the best? Here's eight simple tips you can use to secure a local flying site, or to protect one you have if you get wind that you're about to lose it.

1. Call the responsible official controlling your property. That might be someone in a city office or park district facility. Find out who's in charge, and get all the contact information you can; name, address, phone and fax numbers and email addresses. Add them to your newsletter mailing list right away.

2. Offer to provide the responsible parties with a copy of the NAR's Safety Report. Written by Harry Stine, it shows public officials the safety elements inherent in the hobby, including the full set of independent tests conducted by public safety officials, and their complete results. You can obtain copies of this publication simply by calling, writing or emailing NAR Headquarters and providing them an address to which the NAR's Safety Report should be mailed.

3. Contact local allies; if you've done launches for other groups, Scouts, schools, youth groups, etc., call your contacts. Here's where those few afternoons helping others fly their first rocket bear fruit. Teachers and Scouting leaders are particularly valuable allies. A few telephone calls may be all it takes to get a substantial local backing.

4. Offer to schedule a demonstration launch for the decision making body. In my personal experience, nothing tends to win over a suspicious group faster than seeing them fly. If your young members attend and fly at the launch, their infectious enthusiasm, coupled with your club's respect for safety will quickly show local officials they have nothing to fear from your hobby.

5. Offer to insure the site you're using. By showing that your group is as responsible and serious about its obligations as the local sporting teams using parks, you show that you're a responsible, serious group. NAR HQ can provide you with complete details regarding NAR insurance coverage, if your section hasn't previously used NAR site owner coverage.

6. Be prepared to make reasonable compromises. Other organizations may be paying a modest fee to use park facilities. You should be equally prepared to do so. You will probably have to schedule your launches around other activities. That's perfectly reasonable, too, and can enhance safety. If you begin discussions with the responsible officials by offering to make these and similar concessions, you get the relationship with your site owner off on a cordial footing.

7. Don't be hostile. If you come in quoting the Constitution or talking about lawsuits, defensive barriers are going to be erected by the site owning officials. Whether the law is on your side or not isn't the issue; at the initial stage, it's about proving you're a responsible, good neighbor, asking for reasonable access to public property. Be polite, respectful but firm.

8. Don't give up. Administrations come and go. Park board members change, as do city council members. A teacher might need a launch site next semester, and take up your cause. When my local NIRA section had flown nearly 7,000 rockets in the Du Page County, IL forest preserves, and applied for our 1996 site permits, we were abruptly told "you can't do that". A new administrator had arrived on the scene, and said rocket flying was prohibited by ordinance. Given the many budding HPR members in the club, it would have been easy for us to trot off to our Wisconsin HPR launch site and forget about our local flying. A year's worth of patient work, coupled with a demo launch, got us back in. Now we're back to servicing local Scout troops and attracting new members all the time. Don't give up.

I hope local NAR member efforts will save Gilbert, AZ from becoming a "rocket free zone". If those efforts fail, then the rest of us need to learn from their experience. We need to do absolutely everything in our power to protect our flying site assets. Without those sites, we can't begin to further our mission of safety, education and fun to our communities, and protect the hobby for future generations.

Pay forward. Aim high.

Bunny
 

GuyNoir

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After reading the full article, the circumstances here aren't very good, in my opinion, to retain this field. If rocketry activities were spooking cattle, or causing traffic problems, they needed to be addressed. I have to be proactive about those circumstances, and remember that what might be a minor problem for you, could be a major problem for a non-flyer.

If the field was being outflown 5 times in 14 months (assuming monthly launches, that's 36% of the time), then there's a safety question that needs to be addressed as well. We rocketeers should take care of those things on our own as soon as they happen. Outflying your field is a fast way to get into all sorts of trouble.

Finding fields is hard, and folks usually celebrate getting a good spot to fly. Keeping them is equally hard work, but there are times when you outgrow your field, and need to move on.
 

shrox

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Why do golf courses have special privileges? Golf balls constantly careen off the course and into traffic or pelt neighboring houses. Rockets rarely do that.
 

WillMarchant

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After reading the full article, the circumstances here aren't very good, in my opinion, to retain this field. If rocketry activities were spooking cattle, or causing traffic problems, they needed to be addressed. I have to be proactive about those circumstances, and remember that what might be a minor problem for you, could be a major problem for a non-flyer.

If the field was being outflown 5 times in 14 months (assuming monthly launches, that's 36% of the time), then there's a safety question that needs to be addressed as well. We rocketeers should take care of those things on our own as soon as they happen. Outflying your field is a fast way to get into all sorts of trouble.

Finding fields is hard, and folks usually celebrate getting a good spot to fly. Keeping them is equally hard work, but there are times when you outgrow your field, and need to move on.
Mark, that article is no where near the whole story. So I caution everyone that writing comments in this forum based upon that article is a futile exercise. I expect that Chuck will post his side of the story sometime soon. He's quite busy now figuring out what to do next.
Best wishes,
Will
 

GuyNoir

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Mark, that article is no where near the whole story. So I caution everyone that writing comments in this forum based upon that article is a futile exercise.
Perhaps so, but outflying your field is not a good thing, and needs to be addressed with either better trajectory management, using dual deployment or lowering the maximum permissible altitude for flights.
 

Chuck Neff

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Perhaps so, but outflying your field is not a good thing, and needs to be addressed with either better trajectory management, using dual deployment or lowering the maximum permissible altitude for flights.
Mark,

As Will mentioned, there is a lot more to the story. Unfortunately I don't have the time nor the energy to get into too many details right now, but I will mention the following:

At the time the launches took place, there was no "outflying the field". The rockets landed in an adjacent farm field that we "thought" had been OK'd by the owners so we considered it part of the total launch site.

Regardless, I take full responsibility for not confirming the permissions had been granted.

Thanks,
Chuck Neff
Valley AeroSpace Team - President
 

Chuck Neff

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VAST has decided to file an appeal with the District Court over the loss of their flying field. We're are looking at an estimated minimum of $3000.00 attorney fee to handle the case plus additional court costs.

Since our club membership base is fairly small, we have decided to ask everyone in the rocketry community for their financial support. Any amount would be most appreciated. Contributions can be sent to:

Valley AeroSpace Team
P.O. Box 126
Stuarts Draft, VA 24477

or via http://www.paypal.com to vastinfo@valleyaerospace.com.

Please include your name and address with all submittals.

We have requested aid from both the NAR and Tripoli but that request has yet to bear any fruit.

Why should you help support VAST? Many counties in the USA use very similar legal codes and processes and we know that the legal system works via precedents. In other words, previous decisions by other agencies count when new conflicts arise. Many clubs fly on agricultural land and it is only a matter of time before they could possibly run into the exact same zoning problems that VAST is fighting. It seems likely that when your local club is threatened with loosing your flying field because of zoning conflicts, being able to point to a precedent of a VAST win might save the day.

Feel free to contact me with questions.

Thanks in advance for your help!
Chuck Neff
Valley AeroSpace Team - President
 
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shrox

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Again, why do golf courses have special privileges? Golf balls careen all over the place from them. Is there something similar we could cite for model rocketry? I know that golf courses are a source of revenue, but still, why can golfers cause real and dangerous situations, and our safe hobby is persecuted?
 

Chuck Neff

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All,

First off, I'd like to thank everyone who has contributed to our fight. As of today, I have received $2,626.00 in contributions towards the $3,000.00 attorney fee that I paid. Although this is an outstanding start, more will be needed to cover the filing fees, document reproduction, as well as other court costs (nobody does anything for free). Our appeal is due no later than next Friday, October 2nd, so it's going to be a busy week.

As for help from Tripoli and the NAR, they have been contacted and both are looking into possibly providing some means of support.

Thanks again everyone! I'll continue to keep you posted as things progress.

Thanks,
Chuck Neff
Valley AeroSpace Team - President
 

RandyT0001

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Again, why do golf courses have special privileges?
(snip)
I know that golf courses are a source of revenue, but still, why can golfers cause real and dangerous situations, and our safe hobby is persecuted?
Because the ratio of lawyers, doctors, business executives (CEO's, etc.), etc. that play golf is higher than the same occupations that fly rockets. Government officials are known to eagerly assist and protect the interests of those that have big (campaign) money. There are hundreds of thousands of golf players if not millions, there is (maybe) ten thousand LP/MP/HP rocket fliers across the world. Golf has Tiger Woods. Even LP/MP/HP rocketry's most notorious flyer evokes a loud "Who?" when mentioned to media and/or government officials. Rocketry is too 'cerebral' for most people and many parents would prefer their children learn and play soccer, baseball or basketball, even golf. It's more of a 'mainstream' recreation/sport which parents know enough about (or are able to quickly and easily learn enough about) to be able to proudly brag to friends and neighbors.
IMO
 

shrox

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Because the ratio of lawyers, doctors, business executives (CEO's, etc.), etc. that play golf is higher than the same occupations that fly rockets. Government officials are known to eagerly assist and protect the interests of those that have big (campaign) money. There are hundreds of thousands of golf players if not millions, there is (maybe) ten thousand LP/MP/HP rocket fliers across the world. Golf has Tiger Woods. Even LP/MP/HP rocketry's most notorious flyer evokes a loud "Who?" when mentioned to media and/or government officials. Rocketry is too 'cerebral' for most people and many parents would prefer their children learn and play soccer, baseball or basketball, even golf. It's more of a 'mainstream' recreation/sport which parents know enough about (or are able to quickly and easily learn enough about) to be able to proudly brag to friends and neighbors.
IMO

So golf balls breaking windshields and hit people in the temple is OK?
 

AKPilot

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Chuck, if you desire, please get in touch with me initially either through PM or e-mail. I may be able to assist. I do hold recognizable professional credentials in this area, and have worked for the Federal Government on such matters.

I too lost a field, mounted a challenge, and won. All without spending a single penny, as detailed here:Winning against City

Did a presentation at NARCON this past year on the same subject. I volunteered to assist NAR with such things and would personally like to see a more concerted effort across the country, however I haven't been taken up on the offer.
 

RandyT0001

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So golf balls breaking windshields and hit people in the temple is OK?
It is obviously an acceptable risk to business owners and governments that build and maintain golf courses. Rocketry has considerable risk of catching grass fields on fire when motors are lit. How many NAR and TRA clubs on a regular basis take multiple fire extinguishers to the field when they fly? As the size of the motors increase so does the noise, enough that by the time one is flying F+ motors others nearby may be startled and get upset by the loud noise interrupting their tranquility. If the recovery system in a rocket does not work properly then you have a few ounces (up to three pounds for mid-power flights) of falling material that might hit them or their precious children playing baseball in the park.

(Stepping upon Soapbox)
Though it's called "sport" rocketry it's nothing of the kind. Why not? Because it doesn't depend upon physical ability to jump, run, throw, hit or kick a ball to any significant degree to participate. It's primary requirement is a better than average mental ability and some manual hand dexterity to build and launch the rockets. And when you have an average plus mental requirement then the fear of labeling some kids as "smarter" than others comes into the discussion and the local public education systems want to de-emphasize intelligence as a descriptor lest some children lose their self-esteem.
(Stepping down)

Then there's the expense associated with rocketry. If there are people flying rockets and other children see it they may want to become involved. Rockets cost money and motors really get expensive if one flies several months a year, even for low power stuff. Launching rockets is like burning money. Honestly, how much can a child learn from model rocketry, enough to really prepare him for a future as a rocket scientist? And besides how many companies hire rocket scientists compared to sports teams hire ball players? Do highly sucessful rocket scientists make multi-millions of dollars like high paid atheletes? No. See, it's cheaper and a better investment versus potential return in the long term for one to buy a baseball glove or basketball than participate in rocketry.

Therefore it is an acceptable risk to have golf courses, baseball parks, etc. instead of large open space for rocket fliers.
IMO
 

jadebox

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(Stepping upon Soapbox)
Though it's called "sport" rocketry it's nothing of the kind.
Just picking a nit ....

One of the definitions of "sport" is "an active pastime; recreation."

"Sport Rocketry" sounds better than "Recreational Rocketry." :)

-- Roger
 

davel

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Though it's called "sport" rocketry it's nothing of the kind. Why not? Because it doesn't depend upon physical ability to jump, run, throw, hit or kick
I guess you don't recover in the same areas we do.

Many sports do not involve a ball.
 

RandyT0001

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Jadebox and Davel, I'm just trying to explain my perception of what the 'average' person/parent thinks what a sport is. It's really about my rantings about the degradation of the US educational systems and what they have become. Maybe the recent changes to my local system's policies have soured me.
 

shrox

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Motor racing is considered a sport, as is skydiving.
 

jadebox

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Jadebox and Davel, I'm just trying to explain my perception of what the 'average' person/parent thinks what a sport is.
I understood, that's why I said I was nitpicking. I use the phrase "sport rocketry" to encompass rocketry from model rocketry through high-power and have had to defend the use of the phrase a few times.

-- Roger
 

Chuck Neff

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100 signatures? Is the town really that dense of a population?

More than likely 25x4 person familys who all signed it?
I received a copy of the petition that was submitted to the County. Of those 100 signatures, only 66 were actually located in the general area (within 5 miles of the launch site). In some cases, there were multiple family members (some of which were under 18 so should not have been allowed to sign) and even a few farms got their names put down.

Either way, it's not a document based on accurate data. The person who garnered the signatures filled their heads with lots of exaggerated activities. Did I mention that this person also happens to be the area mail carrier.

You can bet that our attorney will address this in our appeal hearing.

Thanks,
Chuck
 

cls

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How many NAR and TRA clubs on a regular basis take multiple fire extinguishers to the field when they fly?
every one of the 7 clubs I've flown with does this.
 

MarkH

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Because the ratio of lawyers, doctors, business executives (CEO's, etc.), etc. that play golf is higher than the same occupations that fly rockets. Government officials are known to eagerly assist and protect the interests of those that have big (campaign) money. There are hundreds of thousands of golf players if not millions, there is (maybe) ten thousand LP/MP/HP rocket fliers across the world. Golf has Tiger Woods. Even LP/MP/HP rocketry's most notorious flyer evokes a loud "Who?" when mentioned to media and/or government officials. Rocketry is too 'cerebral' for most people and many parents would prefer their children learn and play soccer, baseball or basketball, even golf. It's more of a 'mainstream' recreation/sport which parents know enough about (or are able to quickly and easily learn enough about) to be able to proudly brag to friends and neighbors.
IMO
Playing sports and flying rockets aren't mutually exclusive. One could be well rounded and do both. ...And If it weren't for the local ball fields I'd have no place to fly outside of club launches.

Good luck with the appeal VAST.
 

Chuck Neff

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As for help from Tripoli and the NAR, they have been contacted and both are looking into possibly providing some means of support.
We received a check for $250.00 on 10/03/09 from the NAR to support our legal fight. Tripoli appears to be following suit but needs more information before doing so.

Our attorney filed a simple Writ of Certiorari with the Circuit Court of Virginia requesting an appeal of the September 3rd Augusta County Board of Zoning Appeals decision (copy of the Writ is attached). A hearing will be scheduled although I don't know when.

We'll continue to keep everyone informed.

Thanks,
Chuck Neff
Valley AeroSpace Team - President

View attachment Writ of Certiorari Sept 30 2009.pdf
 
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