A requirement that backyard fire pits must be purchased, not homemade, was cut from North Platte’s proposed ordinances recently when the city council considered the property maintenance code for the second time.
Three readings are required. The council is scheduled to review the extensive ordinance for the third and last time on Tuesday, Sept. 15. The meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.
Although the fire pit requirement was removed, it remains in the city’s fire prevention regulations, so it’s not clear that individual property rights gained any ground. Still, the council was nearly unanimous about it. Councilman Andrew Lee cast the only ‘no’ vote.
The council chambers were full for the meeting. The agenda also included a budget hearing and a proposal to sell the city golf course. Several city department heads were present. So were candidates for council seats. One of them spoke. Ward 4 candidate Mark Woods thanked the city for the hard work on the budget.
“I think you did a good job of holding down costs,” Woods said. “The departments cooperated really well.”
The council advanced the budget after extensive discussion of the city’s yellow top recycling bins. Then the agenda moved to the property maintenance code — 13 pages of regulations that are tied to international standards.
Resident Dean Dye, an advocate for those with low incomes, started the discussion of the property code, asking Mayor Dwight Livingston for permission to speak.
Even though it was not a public hearing, Livingston allowed it, as he often does.
Dye criticized the council for considering the international code and not devising something more tailored to the city. He said fundamental principles are involved that are different than anywhere else in the world. He also said rules “come down all the time” from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that irritate the residents of the North Platte Housing Authority.
Dean noted the difference between the rich and poor in town. Everyone is different, he said, so it’s difficult to create regulations that are fair and even-handed. He said such requirements as the firepit ordinance would give busybodies and authorities the ability to pester residents.
Livingston responded. He told Dye he wished he’d voiced those concerns at the council’s public hearing two weeks earlier, which lasted two hours, and said he didn’t think the property maintenance code would lead to people pestering residents in their own backyards. He said violations would be handled on a case-by-case basis, based on complaints rather than blanket enforcement.
Dye cautioned the city against strict prohibitions on weeds too. He said levying a fine for too many weeds really depresses people who might be prone to emotional issues, and who don’t see the wisdom of spending a lot of money on fertilizer, water and lawn maintenance.
“Everybody’s different,” Dye said again.
Then, Councilman Ed Rieker proposed several changes to the property ordinance, including removal of the fire-pit provision. Rieker also moved to strike the term “approved paintbooth” for painting vehicles, which would allow residents to paint vehicles in a garage or outbuilding. He also moved to remove the specific prohibition on cracked plaster, leaving the prohibition on loose plaster and decaying wood.
Livingston said allowing vehicles to be painted inside buildings could be dangerous, creating explosive fumes, and asked the fire department for their input. North Platte Fire Marshal George Lewis was not present, and Fire Chief Dennis Thompson said he was not an expert on the subject, but proper ventilation is a concern and regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Before the council could vote, Councilman Ty Lucas moved to strike the entire provision on fire pits, which led to several procedural comments.
There was talk of postponing a vote on the changes that Rieker wanted for two weeks, and voting on his amendment on third reading, but Lucas wanted to go ahead and remove the fire pit regulation, which he said gives the entire code a bad connotation.
Councilman Jim Nisley suggested the fire-pit provision be changed to simply refer to the international fire code that the city has already adopted. Reiker’s proposal was amended to do that, and the council approved it, 7-1.
Next Tuesday, Sept. 15, critics of the proposed property maintenance code will have another opportunity to make changes. Given the limited time for public comments, changes best be discussed in advance with councilmen.