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City considers proposal banning porch couches

BY MARY DEYOE
For the Daily
Published July 11, 2004

When students begin to head back to Ann Arbor at the end of
August with plans of savoring the last few weeks of warm weather
from their porches, they may find that there are fewer places to
sit. The porch sofa is a staple at many student homes, but one that
may soon be illegal.

Hana Bae
University students often use furniture made for indoor use on porches in off-campus housing, but a proposed city ordinance may make such seating illegal. (FILE PHOTO)

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Next Monday, the Ann Arbor City Council will hear the first
reading of a possible ordinance that would ban the outdoor use of
“upholstered furniture designed and manufactured for indoor
use.”

The ordinance, which was first presented to the City Council by
the Ann Arbor Fire Department in late 2003, is focused primarily on
reducing what the AAFD believes to be a direct safety hazard. AAFD
fire Marshal Ron Heemstra said the foam cushions of couches and
other indoor furniture are a “heavy fuel load,” that
could be ignited by a dropped cigarette.

“Since detection systems are inside the house, there is
nothing to warn you until the fire has reached inside the
structure” Heemstra said.

City Councilmember Joan Lowenstein added that some are also
concerned that homeless people use porch couches as a place to fall
asleep — often with a lit cigarette, increasing the risk of
fire. She added that couches often help thieves break in to homes
because they make it easier to get into the house through the
windows.

The safety issue, however, is not the only reason that some want
to ban the couches. Ann Arbor resident and University alumna
Barbara Hooberman said she would favor the law because it would
improve the look of the city.

Although couches “did not bother me as a student, they
make the town look trashy,” she said.

According to the University Housing Commission, 38,000 students
currently live in off-campus housing. Most of this housing is in
areas that are densely populated by other students, and it is in
these areas, and not in areas mainly occupied by permanent
residences, that porch sofas seem to be most abundant.

“It may not be pretty but (the couches) have become a part
of college living, and a part of living in a student
neighborhood,” said LSA senior Rachel Friedman. “If
(the couches) are on a porch that can handle the weight, there is
no reason to outlaw their use.”

However, not all students are in favor of the couches either.
“If it was mine, I wouldn’t keep it outside,”
said LSA sophomore Cam Manning, while looking at the slouching
chair on his front porch. Manning lives on Oakland Avenue, an area
largely occupied by students.

The issue was first presented to the City Council in late 2003
by the AAFD, in attempt to pass a list of ordinances that would
help the department reach compliance with the state’s fire
standards.

But the issue regarding the couches was tabled, Lowenstein
said.

In April 2004, the AAFD again approached the council with the
issue. Heemstra said the recent house fire at 924 Oakland Ave. also
prompted some to urge the fire department to look into this
further.

LSA senior Rebecca Sher had a different suggestion as to how to
deal with the fire safety issue.

“A smoker who has fallen asleep with a lit cigarette in
hand seems to be the real problem. Since that cigarette is what
will ignite the couch, then perhaps the city should target the
source and ban smoking on all porches instead,” Sher
said.

The council will hear a first reading of this proposal next
Monday, but a decision will not be reached until August 2 or 16
said councilmember Leigh Greden, who also stressed that this
ordinance “would not ban furniture on front porches, but only
a specific type of furniture.”

Similar laws exist in other college towns as well, such as
Boulder, Colo. and East Lansing. East Lansing approved the
ordinance last August citing concerns similar to those noted by the
Ann Arbor City Council and residents dealing with safety and
aesthetics.

There remain a few wary council members, but Lowenstein believes
that it is “pretty likely” that this law will pass.


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