This weekend’s city-sponsored free porch couch collection had a far lower turnout than expected, a city of Ann Arbor official said yesterday.

According to Dan Cozart, a city employee charged with overseeing the upholstered furniture collection, the event saw the collection of roughly 500 couches — a figure Cozart said is significantly lower than the city had hoped to collect.

“For a city with 36,000 homes, that’s pretty small,” Cozart said.

The collection — which took place one block south of East Quadrangle Residence Hall from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday and yesterday — came after the recent passage of a citywide ban on upholstered porch furniture.

The ban, which was officially enacted Oct. 2, came in response to an April 3 house fire on South State Street that killed former Eastern Michigan University student Renden LeMasters. According to officials, the blaze turned deadly after a couch on the porch caught fire.

In an interview at the collection site yesterday, Cozart said he expected the event to operate like the University’s move-out day, with cars waiting in long lines to dump furniture.

Instead, Cozart said, he was doing the waiting.

“We thought we’d (fill) two to four dumpsters per day,” Cozart said. “We’ve done maybe four the whole weekend.”

According to Cozart, less than one-third of the residents who came to dump their couches were University students, even though the event targeted the student community.

“What (the city) needed to do was get these couches off porches here on campus, and I’m not seeing that,” Cozart said.

Cozart said most of the people who came were Ann Arbor residents who wanted to get rid of couches from their basements or garages.

Still, several University students did show up yesterday with couches in tow.

LSA sophomores Alex Zheutlin and Frankie Graziano said they only got rid of their tattered, multi-colored couch to avoid facing a potential $1,000 fine.

“We just don’t want to get fined,” Zheutlin said. “That’s a lot of money.”

Both Zheutlin and Graziano said they oppose the porch couch ban because it doesn’t entirely address the issue of fire safety.

“I feel like it’s kind of unnecessary to say it’s a fire hazard when, you know, anything in your house could be potentially a fire hazard,” Graziano said.

Like Graziano and Zheutlin, Rackham student Karin Teske said she decided to ditch her couch because of the potential $1,000 fine.

“The fine is pretty hefty,” Teske said.

Teske added that she was relatively prepared to part ways with her couch.

“I know the premise for (the ban), so it’s no surprise to me,” Teske said.

As Teske prepared to dump her couch, Cozart sat behind the wheel of a backhoe excavator — a machine that was used to pick up couches — trying to maneuver a leather couch into one of four packed dumpsters.

The couch had nearly reached the opening of a dumpster when it suddenly slid off the shovel and went crashing to the concrete below.

“FAIL!” came a shout from the porch of the Eugene V. Debs Cooperative House, which sits directly across the street from the collection site.

As Cozart was quick to note, the co-op members were sitting on an upholstered couch.

In an interview several members of the co-op said the house’s two porch couches are a major part of the co-op’s social scene.

“During the summer this is our living room,” said co-op member Miles Larson, a student at Eastern Michigan University.

Brian Merlos, a co-op member and LSA senior, said the co-op’s social scene will “definitely change” as a result of the ban.

All co-op members interviewed were strongly opposed to the porch couch ban.

“I think it’s absolute bollocks,” Larson said.

Merlos agreed with Larson, even though he said he was inside the State Street house on April 3 three hours before the fatal blaze.

“It’s really a shame all of this happened,” Merlos said, adding that despite having been friends with LeMasters and sympathizing with LeMasters’ family, he wished there had been a more comprehensive citywide response to the tragedy.

Another co-op member, EMU student Austin Tracy, gazed forlornly as a couch was thrown into a dumpster across the street.

“A couch has a lot of stories, and these stories are dying,” Tracy said, adding, “Think of how many babies were conceived on these couches.”

Despite opposing the ban, the co-op members finally decided to move their couches off the porch and into a room they call “the love room.”

In an interview last week, Ann Arbor Fire Marshall Kathleen Chamberlain said the Ann Arbor Fire Department will start to enforce the ordinance soon after this past weekend’s collection event.

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