Resident to City Council: Time to revisit porch couch ban

BY DYLAN CINTI
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 5, 2010

A local resident asked the Ann Arbor City Council last night to revisit a proposed ban on outdoor upholstered furniture — introduced and subsequently tabled in 2004 — in light of a deadly blaze on Saturday that officials suspect started with an outdoor couch that caught fire.

Officials are still investigating the cause of the fire, which occurred at a rental house on 928 South State St., that killed Eastern Michigan University student Renden LeMasters and injured two others.

The 2004 proposed ordinance stated that “placing upholstered furniture on front porches can create fire conditions near the primary entrance/exit that can impede the occupants’ abilities to escape from a fire.”

The ordinance — which sought to impose a $100 fine for violators — was originally proposed on July 18, 2004, just over a month after a June 15, 2004 fire destroyed a house on Oakland Avenue and injured two residents, The Michigan Daily reported at the time.

The City Council indefinitely postponed voting on the ordinance at its Aug. 16, 2004 meeting, according to minutes from that meeting. It has not addressed the ordinance since.

Ann Arbor area resident C. Robert Snyder spoke during the public commentary section of the City Council meeting last night, and requested that the council reconsider a the ordinance proposed by the Fire Department, arguing that Saturday's fire shows the importance of a swift re-evaluation.

“Safety is paramount,” Snyder said. “(I) urge you to enact a ban on the outdoor use of upholstered furniture.”

Snyder defended his view by pointing out that the ordinance was proposed by the Ann Arbor Fire Department.

"We should not second guess" the fire department, Snyder said. "Please listen to your fire department's recommendations."

In an interview with The Michigan Daily on Sunday afternoon, Councilmember Margie Teall (D–Ward 4) said she was one of the few councilmembers who supported the 2004 ordinance when it was first proposed.

She cited the potential safety risks as the primary reason for backing the proposal. But the ordinance faced considerable opposition within the community, where it was widely perceived as being too invasive, Teall said.

Ann Arbor Police Detective Kevin Warner was quoted in the 2004 article as saying that the fire may have started after a couch on the porch caught fire.

A similar incident occurred in April 2008, when a house on Benjamin Street was set ablaze after a fire on a couch on the porch spread to the house's interior, according to an April 16, 2008 Daily article. The fire — which quickly became "out of control," according to an observer quoted in the story — left five University residents displaced, the article reported.

As of the conclusion of last night’s meeting, City Council had not addressed whether or not it would reevaluate the 2004 ordinance.

The Ann Arbor fire and police departments are still investigating the series of suspicious fires, which took place at residences near campus on Saturday morning. A crime alert sent out by the Department of Public Safety to the University community on Saturday warned community members about the fires and asked them to take precautions.

DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown told the Daily on Saturday night that she could not comment on whether the Saturday morning fires were linked to one another.