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Fire prevention rules become hot issue in Muskego

March 5, 2012

Muskego - A new burning ordinance that makes it illegal for condominium and apartment dwellers to barbecue on their balconies or within 10 feet of any building has some Muskego residents burning mad.

"My neighbors and I have a huge problem with this," Jill Budnick, who is on the board of the Bay Breeze condominiums, told the Muskego Common Council last week.

The council didn't see that it had any other choice but to bring Muskego's codes in line with state law, which has restricted fires or grilling on multi-unit residential buildings since 2005.

Alderman Noah Fiedler said if grilling causes a big fire one day, the council would face questions about why it didn't pass an ordinance.

Still, there was plenty of sympathy among aldermen for the condo folks.

"Do we have to adopt an ordinance?" asked Alderman Keith Werner, who suggested letting the state enforce its own law.

No exemptions

Fielder asked if current buildings could be excluded from the ban or whether condos could be viewed as single-family residences, which are exempt from the new ordinance.

The answer was "no" to both from city attorney John Macy.

State law doesn't recognize the concept of condos -they are viewed simply as multifamily residences, Macy said.

Further, the city's ordinance cannot be less restrictive than the state law, which doesn't grandfather current multifamily buildings, he said.

Only if someone complains

But some aldermen offered a small ray of hope for condo and apartment folks who like to sit back and barbecue on the balcony on nice summer evenings.

The new ordinance probably will not be enforced unless a complaint is made, Fiedler speculated. That is the case with a lot of other city ordinances, he said.

The police and building inspector are not going to become "the grill police," Fiedler said.

Other fire restrictions

The restrictions on grilling and fires for condos and apartments are part of several changes in the city's open fires ordinance.

The other changes include allowing fires in portable fire pits as long as they are certified by a nationally recognized testing organization.

And while allowing small outdoor fires for cooking, ceremonies or recreation, the new ordinance says fires must be at least 25 feet away from structures or combustible material and that the material burned must be no bigger than 4 feet by 4 feet, and no higher than 3 feet. Previously, there had been no size or distance requirements.

Similarly, the proposal further restricts grass and brush fires, which must be at least 50 feet away from buildings, utility poles, overhead wires or any combustible material. That is almost double the 30-foot distance in the previous code.

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