A staff proposal to limit backyard fires in Point Edward to weekends only went down in flames during a council meeting Tuesday.
“I’m quite concerned you are out of touch,” resident Kate Burgess told council in front of about 40 residents packing council chambers.
As one of seven who spoke out against several of the proposed amendments to the village’s Open Air Burning By-Law, Burgess said she is a registered nurse who works weekends.
“If you go through with this, I can’t have a fire ever. I am at work,” she said, adding that a large number of village residents are also shift workers with the same problem.
In a village where recreational backyard fires are a tradition, council will be interfering with the enjoyment of property for many because of the complaints of a very few, Burgess said.
“This is not the Point Edward I grew up in and it’s not the Point Edward I want to move forward with,” she said.
Revising the village’s open air burning by-law has been discussed for more than a year after numerous complaints from one village couple who say they are concerned about the size and close proximity of one neighbour’s fires.
Andrew Bolter and Diane George-Bolter identified themselves as the complainants at Tuesday’s meeting and said they don’t want to see backyard fires restricted to Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays either.
“If people are responsible, have small fires, control them, and don’t have them in close proximity to their neighbours’ homes, no one has a problem (any day of the week),” said Bolter.
However, several other proposed changes are supported by the Bolters. If approved by council, the revisions:
• allow for propane and natural gas devices anytime;
• dictate that fires that prompt complaints must be extinguished and anyone not complying to the bylaw can be charged a fee for the costs of the fire department response;
• dictate that all backyard fires must be a minimum of three metres from adjacent properties and combustible structures; and
• dictate that all fires must be supervised “small outdoor” fires no more than 36 inches in any dimension.
Bolter said he’d like clarification on what a “small” fire means. “The fires we experience are large fires,” he said. He’s also concerned that the village include a requirement for some kind of a grate to stop embers and sparks.
“I just want to say we moved to Point Edward in 2004…,” Bolter told council. “This is our chosen home…and we don’t wish to complain.
“I can tell you not one call has been made that wasn’t a legitimate call about a genuine issue related to the bylaw… so I have no concerns about fines for nuisance calls,” he said.
“There’s a false narrative out there that somehow this bylaw is being changed because we have malice toward our neighbours…” Bolter said.
Dave Fogel and Denise Simpson are the neighbours who have the fires that are prompting the Bolters’ complaints.
Simon Dearing, a former London firefighter and friend, spoke on behalf of Fogel and Simpson and said they want to enjoy fires in their backyard and comply with village bylaws.
Fogel and Simpson want the revisions to include set fines for nuisance calls that can be levied by the fire chief or deputy chief, Dearing said.
Every time the Bolters complain about fires being too large or too late, the Fogel/Simpson’s have been found to be in compliance, Dearing added.
“They feel that setting restrictions on dates and times only allows for more spite calls from neighbours, and further limits the rights of people who work shiftwork or are retired and want to enjoy a fire during the week,” he said.
Several other residents weighed in saying it’s not like Point Edward residents to have disputes.
“We are a small village and I don’t understand why we are talking about this,” said Louie Mele who has lived in Point Edward for 30 years and owns a restaurant there. “We don’t need to be draconian.”
Linda Ricker and Nicole Sauve said the proposed revisions weren’t circulated well enough and were critical of council. Both said a single neighbour dispute shouldn’t result in restrictions for the entire village.
“This is causing grief and uproar in our village,” said Sauve who presented council with a petition with 100 signatures opposing the changes.
“When I canvassed, so many people had no idea this was happening,” she said.
“The proposed changes, in my opinion, do nothing to alleviate the ongoing issued between the disputing neighbours,” said Ricker. “I believe it will be the catalyst to create substantial issues with more neighbours and conflict.”
Ricker also presented council with a second petition with 145 signatures against the amendments.
Mayor Bev Hand said council will take residents’ comments into consideration before making a decision on the proposed revisions.
It is possible the issue will be back on the May 23 council agenda, she said.