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Fireworks at Elgin fireworks workshop

Posted: August 14, 2015 3:28 p.m.
Updated: August 17, 2015 1:00 a.m.

A question of whether an Elgin fireworks stand violates a zoning ordinance led to a heated discussion of the town’s fireworks and zoning ordinances during an Aug. 11 Elgin Town Council workshop. 

Elgin Councilwoman Dana Sloan recused herself from any discussion on the ordinances because the business in question -- Blaney Fireworks -- is owned by her husband, Jason Sloan, whose lawyer, Matthew Rosbrugh, was present at the workshop. Blaney Fireworks has been in business for 16 years. 

Jason Sloan released a statement to the Chronicle-Independent stating Mayor Melissa Emmons and Elgin Zoning Administrator Randy Pruitt believed there was a question to whether his business and several others on Main Street could be adversely impacted by any errors in the wording of the 2013 Zoning Ordinances. He said it was initially believed the error could require closure of these businesses.

The zoning ordinance was enacted in June 2013 under a previous iteration of council which included then mayor and current councilman Brad Hanley, Councilman Ed Smith, Sloan and Emmons. Under section 2.2-3 of the ordinance, certain businesses, one of which was listed as fireworks stands, could not be permitted.

In response to the ordinance, another business, Custom Fireworks relocated out of the new overlay district.

Pruitt said Blaney’s Fireworks could be in noncompliance with the ordinance which was put into place as a part of the Comprehensive Plan for the Town of Elgin.   

“It may or may not adversely affect it depending on the time it would be dormant. It also states that anything on Main Street, on the north and south limits, certain types of occupancies would not be permitted,” Pruitt said. 

The list of non-permitted occupancies Pruitt referred to includes: truck stops and freight terminals, flea markets, wrecking, scrap and salvage operations, pawn shops, self service car washes, tattoo parlors, sexually oriented business, fireworks stores and stands, adult uses, palm readers and psychics and store front churches. 

Concerning a business being dormant, Pruitt referred to section 7.7-3 of Elgin’s zoning ordinance which calls for discontinuance of a business if the business is idle or unused for a continuous period of six months. That issue will be reviewed at another workshop later this month. 

Pruitt said the list was not created to single out individual businesses and discussion about the changes occurred in 2012.

“This was from input from the community, from council members, the planning and zoning commission that was then transcribed into a part of the Comprehensive Plan. This (a comprehensive plan) is typical of all jurisdictions,” Pruitt said, adding a comprehensive plan is required by state law and is meant to enhance the town and to help draw business.

Pruitt said he did not approach Sloan about his business.

“His business has been there for the last three years (since the zoning ordinance) and has not been affected,” Pruitt said. 

Concerning the Sloan’s business, Elgin Town Attorney John Wells said Blaney Fireworks is currently protected under a “grandfather” clause.

“The Town of Elgin has an overlay district that generally prohibits the selling of fireworks in the district and there is a fireworks stand in that district. However, there is a grandfather clause that allows for businesses that were there before the ordinance to remain. The fireworks stand that is there qualifies under the grandfather clause,” Wells said.

He said he expects the business to remain open and Elgin is not attempting to close it down.

In his statement to the C-I, Jason Sloan also said he believes, as a result of discussions by concerned citizens and others, it is now clear to everyone Blaney Fireworks is in compliance with Elgin’s zoning ordinances. He said Mayor Emmons expressed her belief during the workshop any changes to the zoning ordinance should ensure the continued operation of Blaney Fireworks.

Sloan also thanked citizens, the mayor and administration for their thoughtful attention to the issue and recognition of “our valuable contributions to the community.”

Council scheduled the Aug. 11 workshop after council members questioned the fireworks ordinance’s wording following a post on the town of Elgin’s Facebook page reminding citizens discharging fireworks within town limits is prohibited. At the time, Emmons said, she contacted the town attorney and asked if the town’s fireworks ordinance was in compliance. 

“After talking with our attorney and the county fire marshal, he spoke with the state fire marshal. We contacted municipal associations of different municipalities and we were told we were in compliance -- that’s where we went with that,” Emmons said.

She said there were no complaints to her knowledge last year about fireworks.

The ordinance states “It shall be unlawful for any person or persons to discharge any explosives, firecrackers or firearms within the Town Limits of the Town of Elgin.”

Wells said the ordinance, established around 1954, needs to be clarified. 

“It’s a poorly written ordinance. However, no one has ever challenged it and there have been no problems in the past. I think if we have a well written ordinance we can reasonably enforce it,” Wells said.

Emmons opened the Aug. 11 workshop to discuss possible amendments to the fireworks ordinance, also known as Article 17, which would allow for fireworks to be discharged in the town limits. She asked the public to add input or suggestions about the ordinance.

“Our attorney has presented a recommendation for us as far as fireworks in the town limits. It breaks it down and gives us other options -- being specific as far as dates and hours -- something a little more workable or user friendly,” Emmons said at the workshop. “Tonight is a workshop, so we will discuss it before planning and zoning and council and we are open to any suggestions from the public.”

Well’s suggested amendments included allowing fireworks to be discharged in certain zones or between certain hours; allowing fireworks to be discharged during specific hours on July 4, December 31 and January 1; or allowing fireworks to be discharged anywhere in the town limits 

Emmons said an amendment could possibly state the discharge of fireworks at anytime or anyplace not designated within the town of Elgin is prohibited and would establish a penalty if the amendment was violated.

A woman attending the workshop, Melinda Blocker, asked Emmons why Article 17 was being discussed in the first place.

“Isn’t there already a noise ordinance in effect? So why would we need to be obsessed over fireworks?” Blocker asked. 

“The reason this has come forward was because of questions of the validity of our Article 17, because of the way it was worded,” Emmons replied, and then read the fireworks ordinance.  

Blocker also asked Emmons why the town was attempting to control usage of fireworks on their own property and also questioned why fireworks could not be used in the town limits.  

“We used to have the fire department shoot off fireworks and it was done in the middle of … town, thousands of people came out so what’s the difference now? Why should the town police say what you can and can’t do at your own home?” Blocker asked.

Emmons said a state law requiring licensed pyrotechnics superseded being able to do so. Elgin Police Chief Harold Brown also said there was not enough land to legally shoot off fireworks.

Elgin Councilwoman Candy Silvers then questioned the ordinance’s validity because it did not specifically mention the word “fireworks.” Emmons asked Wells if the definition of firecrackers already included fireworks.

“That’s another point you may want to change and make it clearer. That is council’s duty,” Wells said.

Jason Slaon’s attorney, Rosbrugh asked if Elgin had the authority to enforce any restrictions on fireworks usage in the town. 

“Are you familiar with a case? It ruled the ordinance that (a particular) city was trying to enforce was unconstitutional and the city settled that case … you understand … what is being proposed isn’t a legitimate exercise of authority?” Rosbrugh asked.

As discussion continued, Emmons told the audience research had been done on other municipalities to look at their fireworks ordinances.

“The city of Camden prohibits the discharge of fireworks and the sale of fireworks within the town limits,” Emmons said, adding Elgin is not trying to prohibit the sale of fireworks.   

Someone else from the audience questioned whether Emmons was telling the truth about Camden’s ordinance. The unidentified person said when they worked for the county, there was no such ordinance. Emmons said Camden Deputy Fire Chief Phil Elliot forwarded the copy of Camden’s ordinance to the town.

Concluding the discussion on these matters, Emmons asked town officials to review data concerning the fireworks ordinance and said another workshop would have to be scheduled for further discussion.

A zoning workshop will be held in late August to discuss the zoning issues.

“Concerning the zoning ordinance, that’s something we did in 2012. We had multiple meetings, three to six months of meetings, public meetings, workshops, council meetings and we developed the district overlay,” Emmons said.

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