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Lavallette Officials Still Debating Whether to Regulate Backyard Fire Pits

Fire Pit (Photo: Fire. Water. Burn./Flickr)

Fire Pit (Photo: Fire. Water. Burn./Flickr)

Lavallette officials are still mulling over the debate over whether backyard fire pits, which have surged in popularity as more residents spend time outdoors, should be subject to regulation by municipal ordinance.

A small, but growing, number of residents have expressed concern to the borough council over the smell of smoke enveloping neighboring yards and homes, leading to both an odor as well as coughing. There have also been concerns whether fire pits that are home-made, rather than commercially-sourced, are safe to use in a densely-populated area where embers could theoretically blow onto a nearby property.

The council, however, has been careful not to commit to outright regulation. New Jersey’s statewide fire code already provides regulations that may not be able to be modified by local ordinance, and officials have acknowledged that they could face stiffer opposition by trying to prohibit or limit residents’ backyard activities. Seaside Park recently introduced an ordinance addressing fire pits, though the ordinance largely mirrors the state’s fire code and sets forth a more formal way of dealing with complaints. Lavallette officials said they planned to review the Seaside Park ordinance.

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If borough officials want to create a comprehensive ordinance on fire pits, there is more to consider than simple regulations regarding setbacks and fuel.

“The recommendation was to be very careful, take your time doing it, and worth it out to the nth degree,” said Mayor Walter LaCicero. “You really have to separate gas fires from wood, Coals versus beads.”

Then there are problems spurred by the age-old debate over the letter of the law versus the spirit, and regulations being used as a weapon in neighborly disputes.

“Someone might not like the smell of the steak you’re cooking,” said Borough Administrator Robert Brice. “It might sound silly, but it’s true,” he said, especially when it comes to another recent popular trend: outdoor cooking.

“What happens when someone is smoking that brisket outside, every weekend?” asked Brice rhetorically, bringing up an example of another town that experienced trouble defending the ordinance once it was passed, and the potential obligation of the borough to mediate such disputes.

LaCicero said his own backyard fire pit is based on what was originally designed as a grilling device that does not produce any external flame, and which directs smoke from burning wood above rather than to the site. Brice said some fire pits now use natural gas rather than wood-based fuel, and even utilize heated “beads” to provide warmth. The extent to which certain types and varieties of fire pits could be allowed or prohibited, however, is up for debate.

The council will next meet Oct. 18.

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