Mayor could veto Bellevue council ban on grilling

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Bellevue residents who plan to barbecue this Father's Day weekend better enjoy it: This might be one of the last weekends of grilling for some of them.

Bellevue Council passed a law that bans grilling within 5 feet of homes, combustible material or property lines. It also requires residents to obtain one-time permits for open fire pits in their yards.

Bellevue Mayor George Doscher has 10 days from Tuesday to veto the ordinance and said he plans to do just that.

"[The ordinance] is virtually unenforceable, so go ahead and light up your grill and see what happens," he said at the council meeting Tuesday, after the law passed by a 6-2 vote. "I recommend you all try civil disobedience."

That remark, however, put the heat on the mayor. Borough Council President Linda Woshner, who voted for the law, said the statement was uncalled for.

"Just because he disagrees with council, he doesn't have to encourage people to not follow the law," she said, adding that the council would override a veto.

The council will have to override the mayor's veto and publish an ad announcing the ordinance before the law can go into effect. That process could begin as soon as the next council meeting, July 3.

Mr. Doscher explained later he had not meant to condone civil disobedience, but he did object to a user comment on the Post-Gazette website that said, "any public official condoning civil disobedience should be taken out of office."

"If that's the case, we really have to throw out Gandhi and Martin Luther King and a whole host of other people who have changed this world [with civil disobedience]," Mr. Doscher said. "It is a very respectable means of dealing with tyranny."

Mr. Doscher said he did not believe the grilling ordinance was "tyranny" but called it "over-legislation." He said most people could use common sense to decide whether their grills were in dangerous locations.

"I've had a grill on my back deck for 30 years," Mr. Doscher said. "It's probably more dangerous to cook on your stove top."

He said residents should comply with the law. The penalty for violating the ordinance is a fine of up to $1,000.

Two leading fire safety organizations -- the National Fire Protection Association and the U.S. Fire Administration -- advise only that grills be placed "well away" from homes, deck railings and eaves.

"We typically say that the grill should be a safe distance away from anything that can burn," a NFPA spokeswoman, Lorraine Carli, said.

Councilwoman Kathy Coder, who voted against the law, said Jeff Wissner, the Bellevue fire marshal, told her he would not be able to make sure residents complied. Mr. Wissner could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Coder said the ordinance puts a lot of residents -- including herself -- in a difficult position. She keeps her grill on a synthetic wooden deck, against her house.

"I'm actually illegal with where my grill is," Ms. Coder said. "I don't know what I'm going to do."

Ms. Woshner said she did not believe the ordinance was unrealistic.

"We felt that 5 feet was safe and reasonable," she said. "If we find that we are not being realistic, then we can change it. We want to make sure that we are listening to the residents."

She said the ordinance also requires residents to obtain a permit from the fire marshal for each fire pit in their yards to curtail smoke emissions.

"We've had complaints for a few years about the smoke issue, but the last council would not address it," she said.

Ms. Coder, who served as council president prior to Ms. Woshner, said the previous council conducted "extensive research" into open burning, but deemed existing county regulations sufficient. The county policy, however, does not require permits for residential fire pits.

Ms. Woshner, the council president, disagreed that county regulations were sufficient.

"Every community around us has an open-burning ordinance and many of them are stricter than us," she said. "We have this ordinance because we have problems. If people were good neighbors, we wouldn't need these regulations"

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Marcus Schwarz: or 412-263-1946. First Published June 16, 2012 4:00 AM


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