Concord City Council sets limits on personal fireworks displays

Monitor staff
Published: 9/15/2020 3:15:27 PM

Fireworks are still permitted within the capital city, but a new ordinance aims to limit their use during the overnight hours.

The Concord City Council voted in favor Monday night of a ban on the use of consumer fireworks between the hours of 10 p.m. and 10 a.m. While the city enacted a noise ordinance long ago, the municipal law does not explicitly reference fireworks or regulate their use.

Councilors considered the ordinance after receiving numerous complaints from residents in downtown neighborhoods, as well as those in proximity to Concord High School and Concord Hospital. But it’s too soon to say whether the new 12-hour time restriction will actually give police officers more leverage to issue citations and resolve fireworks-related complaints.

In most instances, officers view education as a first step and will issue first-time offenders a verbal or written warning before imposing a fine, Police Chief Brad Osgood told the council Monday night.

He said fireworks-related calls are “extremely evasive” for officers, who often arrive to find that the activity has ceased or that the evidence has been cleaned up. Even with the passage of a new ordinance, he said, “I don’t see that changing.”

Noise disturbances of this nature are classified as lower-priority calls for the department – and, as a result, it could take officers 20 minutes or up to two hours to respond depending on what else is happening in the city at any given time, Osgood explained.

“It sounds like we may be passing something that is feel-good in nature, and if we pass it tonight there will be no change in terms of enforcement,” Amanda Grady Sexton, an at-large councilor said to Osgood before the vote.

Osgood generally agreed, but said the ordinance would aid in officers’ enforcement efforts when they are able to track down people using fireworks between the off hours of 10 p.m. and 10 a.m.

If the call comes in outside of those hours, officers can cite the noise ordinance, which is more complex and explicitly forbids, for example, the operation of lawn mowers and leaf blowers between 9 p.m. and 7 a.m. To violate the ordinance, a person would have to “cause discomfort or annoyance to reasonable persons of normal sensitivity” or endanger the peace of nearby residents to the extent that the activity could be declared a “public nuisance.”

A person could also be charged with disorderly conduct if they make a loud or unreasonable noise in a public place, or do so in a private space and affect the public space.

While the majority of councilors backed the new fireworks ordinance, they also encouraged the city’s legal department to revisit the existing noise ordinance to address any gaps. City Solicitor Jim Kennedy said that review is in process, and that he expects to submit an updated ordinance to the council for its review in the next couple of months.

The council held a public hearing Monday night for residents to weigh in on the proposed fireworks restriction, although no one in attendance chose to testify.

Since early summer, the council has received several emails from residents who wished to share their thoughts and concerns about current city policy and the need for stricter guidelines.

Resident Barbara Jones wrote that the frequency and severity of fireworks in the city’s West End is troubling and affects her quality of life.

Likewise, Annmarie Timmins wrote to say that fireworks have awoken her numerous times, as late as 2 a.m., and disrupted dogs in her downtown neighborhood. She said in each instance multiple rounds were set off.

“I called the police department the first time this happened and was surprised to learn there are no rules limiting where or when fireworks can be used,” she wrote.

Both Jones and Timmins called for a fireworks ban but agreed that an imposed time limit would help.

The ordinance passed in a 10-3 vote. Councilors Fred Keach, Keith Nyhan and Jennifer Kretovic voted against the measure, saying it’s not the right solution.

“Frankly I don’t think we should be passing ordinances that we can’t enforce. It’s bad precedence, it’s bad form and it’s unnecessary,” said Nyhan, who represents Ward 7. “It’s a toothless ordinance that’s not going to improve the quality of life or have the impact that everyone’s hoping it’ll have.”

Conversely, other councilors said outlawing fireworks during a 12-hour period overnight is a modest step the city can take to help alleviate ongoing concerns by residents who live in close-knit neighborhoods.

“I see this as an ordinance of respect,” Ward 2 councilor Erle Pierce said, “and I also see this as an opportunity to educate the public – respect your neighbors.”

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