Douglas County Commission to consider changes to rules for fireworks sales and use, including ban from parks

In this Journal-World file photo from 2003, Ariel Garcia, 11, Lawrence, is engulfed by smoke as she holds a lit smoke bomb while setting off fireworks at Wells Overlook Park. Wells Overlook Park and Lone Star Lake were the two county parks for personal use of fireworks Friday. Garcia was with her brother Alec and their mother, Geriann Bermudez.

Douglas County leaders will soon consider changes to fireworks regulations that would increase requirements on fireworks stands and prohibit people from setting off fireworks on county properties such as Lone Star Lake and Wells Overlook Park.

As part of its meeting Wednesday, the Douglas County Commission will consider adopting a new home rule resolution to replace the existing resolution regarding the use and sale of fireworks. A county staff memo to the commission highlights four changes from the proposed resolution, and it states that the changes aim to address weaknesses in the county’s existing fireworks regulations and to mitigate negative effects of allowing fireworks within the unincorporated areas of Douglas County.

Though the City of Lawrence bans both the sale and use of fireworks inside the city limits, no such bans generally exist in the unincorporated or rural areas of the county. The proposed changes to the county’s fireworks regulations include the prohibition against setting off fireworks on county property; limits for where fireworks stands can be located; an increase in the permit fees for fireworks stands; and additional fireworks stand requirements.

Specifically, the proposed changes would prohibit the use or discharge of fireworks on any county-owned properties, citing concerns with both safety and trash. The memo states that every year, countless people come to Lone Star Lake and Wells Overlook Park to set off fireworks, and that many don’t clean up after themselves.

“This produces hundreds of pounds of waste from BBQ’s, prepackaged foods, discharged fireworks etc., that individuals fail to clean up after their use,” the memo states.

In 2020, Public Works sent employees to clean up both sites, and the amount of garbage picked up at Lone Star Lake alone was enough to fill two small dump trucks. In addition, county staff has also received complaints from individuals using those sites for recreational purposes who felt uncomfortable with strangers igniting fireworks in their immediate vicinity. If approved, the prohibition would still allow Douglas County to organize an annual fireworks show if desired.

The other three proposed changes all have to do with fireworks stands. The first would prohibit fireworks stands from locating on county lots that are completely surrounded by land that is within the Lawrence city limits. Several of these “county islands” exist around the outside of the city, and the memo states that fireworks stands have used this as a sort of loophole around the city’s fireworks sales bans.

Other proposed changes would increase the application fee from $125 to $250 and move up the application deadline to give county staff more time to conduct required site plans and other reviews. In addition, the new resolution would add more requirements for fireworks stands, such as additional safety requirements and public notice so that nearby residents would be alerted to an application for a fireworks stand.

The County Commission will convene at 4 p.m. for its study session and 5:30 p.m. for its regular business meeting. The meeting will be open to the walk-in public at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St., but a link for the public to watch live online is available on the county’s website, Residents may also call in and listen by phone by dialing 1-312-626-6799 and entering meeting ID 941 1167 9990.


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