Sterling HeightsJune 11, 2012
Council looking to limit consumer fireworks
By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer
Under ordinance amendments introduced June 5, consumer fireworks usage would be banned in Sterling Heights for all but 30 days deemed untouchable by the state.
The Fireworks Safety Act, which went into effect this year, broadened the permissible spectrum of fireworks sales to include higher-grade consumer fireworks in addition to the previously legal low-impact and novelty items.
Sky, bottle and missile-type rockets, helicopters, aerial spinners, mine and shell devices, firecrackers, roman candles and the like, formerly banned in Michigan, are now legal.
Legislators reasoned that if the devices are federally legal and residents are going outside the state to acquire them, Michigan should be reaping some of the revenue in lieu of its neighbors, said Assistant City Attorney Don Denault, who presented the proposed amendments to City Council.
The new law shifted much of the vendor licensing and oversight to the state and forbids municipalities from restricting fireworks usage on 10 nationally recognized holidays — New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas — and the day before and after each holiday.
But based on subtleties in the legislation’s language, it appears municipalities can still enforce other ordinances not passed in conjunction with the Fireworks Safety Act, even in cases that involve fireworks, said Denault.
“The city has a lot of other tools in its tool belt: We have noise ordinances; we have littering ordinances; we have disturbing the peace ordinances; we have fire safety codes,” he said. “Those types of things can still be regulated, in our opinion, under the new law.
“In addition, we can regulate how you ignite them and how you discharge them,” he added. “We can also regulate from a land use perspective how you zone for where and when these things are going to be used.”
Under that interpretation, Denault agreed with a hypothetical posed by Mayor Pro Tem Michael Taylor that, technically, an individual could be cited under the city’s noise ordinance for igniting fireworks after dark, even on July 4, a recognized national holiday.
Besides prohibiting consumer fireworks usage 335 days a year, the ordinance amendments would enact numerous other conditions, including using only a match or lighter for ignition and avoiding discharge inside or within 25 feet of a building, within 50 feet of a flame or flammable surface, 20 feet of a property line, 500 feet a gas station, etc.
Discussions at the council table suggested adding provisions limiting discharge in apartment and condo complexes, and restricting permissible discharge hours on those 30 legal days, actions Denault believed would be possible because they could be classified as “discharge” rather than “use” restrictions.
In most cases, violation of the ordinances would constitute a misdemeanor punishable by up to 30 days in jail and/or fines of up to $500. Possible penalties rise to 90 days and a $500 fine if another person’s property is damaged. Felony charges could come into play if someone were injured or killed.
But several officials and residents implied that enforcement of the regulations, regardless of content, is dubiously feasible.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do to enforce it. … It goes off, and once it goes off, it’s disturbed me,” said Taylor. “It’s not as if I can be ‘undisturbed’ anymore.”
Resident Jeff Norgrove lamented, “I don’t see how you’re going to enforce this. Ever since this law passed in my neighborhood, it’s like almost every day is the Fourth of July.”
Mayor Richard Notte agreed and said he resents what he perceives as state intrusion on municipalities’ rights.
“We have no control of our own destiny in our own city,” he said. “The state has taken over.”
Council ultimately voted 6-1 to introduce the amendments, which also encompassed various other additions and deletions to align existing ordinance language with the Fireworks Safety Act.
Councilman Paul Smith — whose motion for postponement until September to evaluate how the first summer goes went unsupported — represented the dissenting vote. The matter will resurface for final adoption June 19.
On a related note, at the same meeting, council formally received a lawsuit filed in Macomb County Circuit Court by Motor City Fireworks LLC challenging the city’s denial of a temporary sales tent on M-59, west of Schoenherr, on a vacant lot once occupied by a now-demolished Bill Knapp’s restaurant.
Motor City Fireworks’ attorney, David Greco, argued in his complaint that the new law that requires fireworks vendors to obtain a state sales certificate, which the company has, preempts local zoning ordinances.
As Denault stated at the meeting, City Attorney Jeff Bahorski maintains that Sterling Heights’ zoning ordinances still apply because they don’t target consumer fireworks sales; they pertain to any temporary sales.
Such activity must be “meant to enhance and promote existing business on the site,” said Bahorski, giving as an example tents erected in strip mall lots — with the property owners’ permission — to peddle perennials and annuals in the spring.
Under the current system, the city doesn’t allow temporary sales on vacant lots, as it “tends to be hard to regulate and is a blight on the community, in many cases,” he said.
Judge Matthew Switalski denied Greco’s motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction against the city June 4, meaning “the case will continue, but as of right now, they still are required to comply with our zoning ordinances,” said Bahorski.
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