UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law Nov. 8 House Bill 172, which will allow the sale and discharge, on certain holidays, of commercial grade fireworks. The state law permits communities to opt out of its provisions, and, on Tuesday (Nov. 16), University Heights City Council’s Safety Committee was in agreement in saying no thanks to the new fireworks freedoms.
The committee discussed forbidding setting off of fireworks in the city at any time, due to safety concerns. HB 172 permits shooting off fireworks on private property on New Year’s Eve and Day, Cinco de Mayo, Juneteenth, Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends and July 3, 4, 5. Fireworks would also be permitted on the three-day weekends before and after July 4 and for Chinese New Year and the Hindu celebration Diwali. The law takes effect on July 1, 2022.
As for University Heights, Vice Mayor Michele Weiss said, “I just feel we’re really a very dense city in terms of our housing stock, and it would be a real danger to residents if we allowed this.”
Weiss asked Safety Committee Chair Saundra Berry to place the proposal on the committee’s Tuesday agenda. During that meeting, a resident suggested that the city of University Heights also ask its neighboring cities to join in such a ban.
“I like the idea that we should speak to other surrounding cities since we’re so close to them,” Weiss said. “You drive a minute in five directions (from University Heights) and you’re in different cities.”
University Heights Fire Chief Robert Perko believes that the proposal is a good one. Perko said fireworks can be very dangerous when not handled by professionals and, if HB 172 were permitted in the city, it would only serve to enhance the danger.
Vendors, he said are regulated as to how fireworks are stored, and firefighters, when working on regulated fireworks displays, are required to have specific certifications to set off fireworks.
“I would speculate if people (residents) are allowed to have these (fireworks) and if they want to have a nice showing, they’re going to have be packed somewhere, their basement or garage,” Perko said. “It’s not only a danger when they’re shooting them off, but it’s the storage.”
While there are no stores that sell fireworks in University Heights, Perko noted that in such stores, the state fire marshal carefully regulates storage. “Whereas here,” he said, “we would have no jurisdiction to go into (residents’) garages or see what they’re doing.”
Such garage or basement storage would likely not include necessary sprinklers, he said. Of fighting such a garage storage fire, Perko added, “A fire of that nature would be very unpredictable for us to try to combat.”
University Heights Police Chief Dustin Rogers said that there has been an uptick in the amount of fireworks-related complaints police have received in recent years. There were 20 such complaints in 2017, 14 in 2018, and 24 in 2019. The numbers increased to 58 in 2020, and 54 last year.
Said Weiss, “We’re hopefully going to opt out (of HB 172) and create legislation that would be good for our city, in conjunction with updating some part of our zoning code, whichever way the law director (Luke McConville) thinks it should be fashioned, to ensure that (high powered) fireworks are not sold (in University Heights).”
Perko said that John Carroll University held a properly regulated display in July, 2021, prompting Mayor Michael Dylan Brennan to say that the proposed University Heights legislation would not prohibit such regulated shows from taking place in the city.
Weiss said that the legislation will be drawn up and likely appear on one of the next two City Council agendas.
Scooters and dogs
The Safety Committee also discussed the subjects of electronic scooters and tethering dogs.
On Oct. 4, council approved legislation that would allow for a six-month electronic scooter pilot program to begin in University Heights. At that time, it was thought that the Cuyahoga County program would get under way in the city in just a matter of days. As it turned out, Brennan did not sign the legislation into law because of concerns expressed by Rogers.
The program would allow the scooters to be activated for use, for those 16 and older, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily. Scooters, which travel at up to 15 miles per hour, would have to be ridden on streets and not sidewalks. The 20 scooters the city would have could only be rented for use on Cedar, South Taylor, South Green and Warrensville Center roads, and Fairmount and Meadowbrook boulevards.
Rogers said that youngsters, many younger than 16, own private scooters, which should not be used on streets, but rather on sidewalks. He said that police could be placed in a position of selectively enforcing the law if the rider of a rented scooter were riding next to a youngster on a privately owned scooter while both were on a sidewalk.
Weiss said that the delayed pilot program will likely be approved once more at the next council meeting and that, because the program is a pilot, “we’ll see if there are any concerns.”
The program will now get started in the winter or spring and last until June. There have been scooters seen in University Heights in recent weeks, but those are scooters that have been rented in neighboring communities that have had the pilot program in effect, Cleveland Heights and South Euclid.
As for tethering dogs, the committee discussed legislation that would, among other things, prohibit the tethering of dogs between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m., as opposed to the current ordinance, which restricts tethering between 8 p.m. and 8 a.m. Weiss explained that some people let their dog out before going to bed and the later hour better accommodates them.
The proposed ordinance also requires someone to be home, with the ability to tend to a tethered dog. The current ordinance does not require someone be home, but limits the amount of tethering time to three hours. Some residents have been tethering their dogs before leaving home for work.
The changes are being made in response to loud, continuously barking dogs. They come at a time when more people are working from home and may be disturbed by a neighbor’s barking dog.
“The gist of the whole tethering (ordinance) is the safety of the animal and upholding the city’s noise ordinances,” Weiss said.
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