City council hopes to change balloon laws

Posted at: 03/04/2013 5:47 PM
Updated at: 03/04/2013 5:48 PM
By: Jill Galus, KOB Eyewitness News 4

Once a year, eyes from all around the world are on Albuquerque as hot air balloons fill the sky during the International Balloon Fiesta.  But for all these years, pilots have been violating the rules when they take-off and land, simply because there have never been any. 

At Monday night's city council meeting, pilots packed into council chambers for a proposed zoning code amendment that would finally make it okay for balloonists to take off and land where they like within the city, including Balloon Fiesta Park.

It is the most unique and memorable way to see the city, but a hot air balloon ride is technically only legal while in the air.  There is currently nothing in the city's zoning code that has ever indicated pilots can take-off and land within city limits.

"It's actually, in a defacto way, illegal to do that," Mayor Richard Berry said.

Rainbow Ryders Balloonist Scott Appleman knows firsthand, some people get mad when the takeoff or landing is on or near their property.

"There was one loud voice that brought this to a head, and this is the city's way of supporting and owning ballooning," Appleman said.

The area near Sagebrush Church is one of the places balloonists have taken-off for years; it's also one of the areas that have raised concerns and complaints.  This sometimes leads to stressful confrontations, Appleman said, can be eliminated with a zoning code to back it up.

"We're thrilled to death that they're doing it," Appleman said.  "Without a doubt, the balloon community doesn't want to do anything to become a hassle to a land owner; hands down, we want to avoid it."

Balloon pilots do have maps that indicate restriction areas or no-fly zones in regard to safety and trespassing.  Other than those exceptions, if the amendment is approved, anywhere within city limits are acceptable.

"If there's more places to launch and land balloons legally, we think that that will relieve some of the pressure there," Berry said.