Anyone in Brookfield who would have liked some clarity regarding the issue of outdoor fire pits prior to the July 4 holiday came away disappointed Monday night, though trustees left little room to doubt which way they were leaning.
Brookfield’s village board kicked the issue of fire pits down the road for another couple of weeks, but it seems clear that trustees support amending the restrictive law currently on the books in order to allow the popular recreational items.
Trustees voted 6-0 on June 22 to table a vote on whether to allow outdoor fire pits after getting hung up on language regarding the use of grills for cooking outdoors.
While it would have appeared fairly simple to add a sentence to the proposed ordinance that would make it clear grills were not being regulated in the same way fire pits were, trustees and the village’s attorney, Richard Ramello, decided it would be best to return to the subject at the board’s next meeting on July 13.
The problem on June 22 centered on the way the proposed law was written, which subjected outdoor grills to the same restrictions imposed on fire pits.
For example, the law would have mandated that neither grills nor fire pits be located within 10 feet of a masonry structure or 15 feet of a frame structure. It would also have prohibited grills and fire pits from being used prior to 11 a.m. and after 11 p.m. It also would subject grills to “nuisance” language meant to make sure people weren’t abusing their right to use a fire pit.
Trustee Michelle Ryan argued that grills should be separated from such restrictive language, which earned support from a majority of trustees. But no one could suggest specific language that would have allowed a vote Monday night.
The inability to get an up or down vote on the proposed law appeared to aggravate President Kit Ketchmark, who successfully prevented the proposal from being tabled once in order to see if trustees and the attorney could come up with a solution to the language issue.
“There seems to be a general consensus allowing fire pits to some degree with certain restrictions,” Ketchmark said.
Trustees appeared in favor of the distance and time restrictions for fire pits. Meanwhile, Police Chief Steven Stelter was resigned to the fact that his police officers would still need to play referee on occasion to enforce language in the proposed ordinance that outlaws fire pits “if it constitutes a threat to the health, safety or welfare of neighbors or the surrounding area.”
Four Brookfield residents spoke out against allowing fire pits at all, pointing to information regarding the dangers of wood smoke generally.
“This issue is not about a mere annoyance; it’s a quality of life issue for people who live in Brookfield,” said Brooks.
Clare Donovan, who said she suffers from asthma, also opposed fire pits, saying the fire safety language in the proposed ordinance was “obfuscating” the real issue — the dangers of wood smoke.
“People’s ability to breathe is more important than the recreational use of a camp fire,” Donovan said.
But others, such as Michael Kayse, said the board ought to use a common-sense approach that would allow fire pits while safeguarding neighbors whose lives might be impacted by them. He suggested neighbors ought to communicate with one another if there’s a problem.
Tim Heilenbach brought up another wild card. He has a 2-by-2-foot fire pit built into his backyard patio. By law, that’s prohibited, yet the village of Brookfield approved it by permit about eight years ago and an inspector gave it his blessing.
“If it’s illegal in the first place, why were we approved?” Heilenbach asked.
While there was some talk among trustees about grandfathering previously permitted fire pits such as Heilenbach’s, it’s unclear whether such language will be included in the version that will come back to trustees on July 13.
In the meantime, both fire pits and outdoor grills — while the village has never enforced its open burning law with regard to grills, there is no language in the village’s open-burning law that specifically allows them — will be illegal in Brookfield on July 4, and anyone using a fire pit that night might reasonably expect a visit from police based on a neighbor complaint.