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

In this photo from July 1, 2014, Adam Gower stocks Bartz Brothers fireworks stand along U.S. Highway 40, just outside of Lawrence.

After hearing concerns from owners of fireworks stands, Douglas County leaders postponed consideration of changes to fireworks regulations that would limit the locations of 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 voted unanimously to table the new home rule resolution regarding the use and sale of fireworks for further consideration. The changes were proposed in part due to trash and safety concerns, but commissioners agreed more discussion was needed.

“It does sound like it may make the most sense for us to table this for now and allow staff to spend some time gathering more input,” Commission Chair Shannon Portillo said.

Though the city of Lawrence bans both the sale and use of fireworks, no such bans generally exist in the unincorporated or rural areas of the county. The proposed changes include a ban on setting off fireworks on county property and the prohibition of fireworks stands on “county islands,” or lots that aren’t part of a city but are completely surrounded by land that is within a city. Other provisions would increase the permit fees for fireworks stands from $125 to $250 to help offset county costs associated with the permitting process, as well as additional updates and requirements.

Zoning Director Tonya Voigt said the proposed location limits for stands were related to concerns of any fire potentially impacting more properties and the city’s infill goals. She said the provision could potentially nudge owners of those properties, some of which sit vacant the rest of the year, to annex the land into the city so it could be better utilized.

Regarding the use of parks, Public Works Director Chad Voigt said people trying to fish at Lone Star Lake complained of others shooting off fireworks right next to them and that every year fireworks were left behind. He said it was costly for county crews to have to go out and pick up the trash, which filled multiple dump trucks last year, and there are also concerns about toxic substances from the fireworks that end up in the water.

While several fireworks stand operators said they agreed with modernizing the regulations and generally did not object to the increase in fees, they opposed the location limits for fireworks stands.

Eudora resident Eric Garrett, who operates a stand near Kansas Highway 10, said his family wasn’t trying to find a loophole in prohibitions against selling in city limits, but rather that city growth had occurred near his site’s location over the years.

“If this is passed the way it is written, then we will lose our fireworks stand that we’ve had for 30 years,” Garrett said.

Garrett also said planning for the July 4 holiday began months ago, and he had already purchased fireworks for the K-10 location. He suggested the commission table the resolution until after the upcoming fireworks season and that perhaps the county could use the increase in fees to help offset cleanup costs at the county parks.

Peter Shenouda said that his family rents his lot on 31st Street to Jake’s Fireworks, and that they would not be allowed to do so under the proposed changes. He said if the intent was to nudge him to annex his land into the city, it wouldn’t work, because he didn’t want to pay the additional taxes.

Commissioner Patrick Kelly and Commission Vice Chair Shannon Reid agreed with Portillo, and both also said the enforcement of a potential fireworks ban in the parks would be an important consideration. Reid noted a comment from the sheriff’s office that enforcement would be difficult and that there were advantages to having fireworks use concentrated in the two parks instead of spread throughout the county.

Portillo suggested the county wait until after the upcoming fireworks season to discuss the potential changes, and the commission tabled the resolution for further consideration without setting a date for bringing it back for consideration.

In other business, the commission received an outside study of Lawrence’s and Douglas County’s emergency medical services agreement, which called for the county to increase its contribution as part of an upcoming update to the funding agreement. County Administrator Sarah Plinsky said she estimated the increased cost to the county could be about $900,000.


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