Backyard fire issue merits more debate

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Backyard fire issue merits more debate

Postby Wilberforce » Fri Jul 06, 2012 6:00 pm

Fri Jul 06 2012
D’Amato: Backyard fire issue merits more debate
By Luisa D'Amato

It’s not usually the lofty, philosophical issues that fire up the readers of this daily journal the most. Instead, it’s the issues that hit close to home.

Roundabouts were a regional obsession for a while. Bicycle helmets are always discussed with passion. And now, my inbox is full of raging debates on backyard fires in Kitchener. Should they be allowed? Under what circumstances?

Kitchener used to ban backyard fires. But some people couldn’t see any reason for that law, so they went ahead and broke it. In 2006, says Coun. Berry Vrbanovic, the fire department was called about 280 times to deal with people who were illegally roasting their hotdogs and toasting their marshmallows. Everyone agreed this was a waste of the firefighters’ time and trucks. City hall decided it couldn’t fight the fires, so it legalized them instead.

Last week, Kitchener council tried for a compromise. They wanted to accommodate both the people who enjoy their backyard fires and their neighbours who are bothered by the smoke. A motion from Vrbanovic, allowing the fires only between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. and requiring that they be built six metres from fences, property lines and other buildings, passed on June 25, the same night that it was proposed.

And at the end of August, council will also consider the second part of Vrbanovic’s plan: a bylaw limiting homeowners to six fires per year. For each fire, the homeowner would have to purchase a permit costing $10.

But wait a minute. All this is happening much too quickly, given the depth of feeling on all sides. Everyone needs time to talk, listen, and think.

The issue is more complicated than it seems. The pro-fire folks say some of their group can’t afford to go camping or cottaging, and a fire at home is an inexpensive opportunity to relax peacefully with friends and neighbours.

They are, generally, furious at the idea of paying a fee just to have a fire on their own property. They say the $10 fee is an administrative nightmare, a blatant cash grab — and indeed, Vrbanovic admits the amount is not justified by any study, but was simply put forward, the same night council met, just to attach “some value” to the permit.

Meanwhile, the anti-fire people don’t see why they should go indoors and shut their windows on a beautiful night, just to avoid the pollution in the smoke blowing over from next door. Sometimes, it’s so bad that they can’t turn on their air conditioning because it would draw the toxins into the house.

Some people have told me about out-of-control fires next door to them that threatened to ignite nearby fences and trees. Sometimes the homeowner builds a fire and then leaves it unattended. And one person talked about a rude neighbour who burned plastic and construction materials in his yard, creating fumes so toxic that nearby folk actually got ill and their garden plants were ruined.

Lots of people have written to me with other ideas for a compromise. Some have suggested that propane and charcoal fires be allowed instead of wood, because these fuels burn much cleaner.

Others have said that a homeowner ought to get a fire permit just once — but it should only be issued if the firepit is inspected first, or if all the neighbours within 100 metres tell the city that they agree to the fire.

Coun. Zyg Janecki is one person who thinks events have moved too fast. “Nothing’s been thought out,” he said. And he’s right.

You never know: Someone out there might have already thought of the perfect compromise. And councillors need to know how residents feel. These are two good reasons that the city should start a survey, offered online and on the telephone, inviting residents to state their opinions and offer their ideas. Maybe there should be an open house too, with different options for the public to evaluate.

Certainly, Kitchener council is not going to please everyone with its final decision. But we will be a better and more neighbourly community if it listens to everyone first, and makes its decision later.

ldamato@therecord.com

source
http://www.therecord.com/opinion/column ... ore-debate
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