By BOB OLIVER
DEARBORN — The City Council is amending the burning laws in the city, but not through unanimous decision.
At the April 30 meeting a 5-2 majority of the council voted to modify the existing ordinance regarding woodburning units on private property.
The amendment will be made to the “Open Burning” section within the Fire Prevention and Protection Chapter of the Code of the City of Dearborn. It will make it mandatory for the units to be behind a house and at a minimum distance of 15 feet from a house and any other structures either on the same property as a unit or any neighboring property.
The previous ordinance banned open burning completely.
“As outside burning becomes more popular we felt we needed to modify our current ordinance to update the chimneys and burning pits that are out there,” Council President Thomas Tafelski said.
Tafelski was joined by Councilors Robert Abraham, Nancy Hubbard, Mark Shooshanian and David Bazzy in supporting the amendment.
Bazzy said he supported the amendment because the city had a responsibility to define what it was going to “allow and not allow to happen” within its limits. He added that a lack of communication between residents made the amendment necessary.
“Thirty years ago you would have communicated with your neighbors and probably nothing would have happened,” Bazzy said. “Today is a different world. Everybody feels that their home is their entitlement and that they’re
entitled to do whatever they want and if it bothers you, too bad.”
Fire Chief Joseph Murray addressed the council and said the majority of complaints that the department gets are not safety hazards, such as fires close to houses or garages, but that they are complaints from smoke issues caused by the burning of illegal materials, such as brush or grass clippings.
He added that the 15-foot distance in the amendment was something that came about after research.
“That distance was put into the ordinance proposal because that was the recommendation from the International Fire Code 2009 Edition,” Murray said. “We also did surveys of some other neighboring communities and they were ranging anywhere from 15 feet to 40 feet. Based on the fire code this was the closest we could get to the structures, taking into account the small yards of some of the houses.”
He added that the fire department is comfortable with a 15-foot distance from homes and garages for open burning.
Councilwoman Suzanne Sareini voted against the ordinance along with Councilman Brian O’Donnell. She asked the council what residents with smaller land lots were to do about the ordinance.
“It’s sometimes impossible to be 15 feet away from your house, your garage and your neighbor,” Sareini said.
Murray said that an exemption to the ordinance was possible. The language of the amendment allows the Office of the Fire Marshal to waive the various requirements if the marshal deems the area safe for the fire unit.
He added that residents wishing to receive exemptions for fire pits should contact the fire marshal and schedule an appointment so that the area in question can be reviewed.
O’Donnell also disagreed with the distances stipulated in the ordinance but said that he agreed with the restrictions of what materials could be burned in the units. He added that the amendment wasn’t necessary because there weren’t many complaints to the fire or police departments over the issue.
“I did some research and I think they’ve gotten 12 calls on fire pits in back yards,” O’Donnell said. “I feel like we’re really going over the top here.”
Murray confirmed the number of complaints but said that the number was growing every year.