Cedar Rapids approves fireworks use ban, limits sales

City Council votes 6-1 on new restrictions

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Cedar Rapids has voted to ban use of fireworks after a noisy first-run with legalization turned sour.

The Cedar Rapids City Council at its meeting Tuesday voted 6-1, with Mayor Ron Corbett opposing, to ban fireworks use in city limits and restrict sales to industrial zones. Pat Shey and Justin Shields both supported the use ban, but were not present for the vote.

Council members spoke out in force after getting bombarded with angry emails and phone calls in recent weeks.

“This is a black and white issue,” Ann Poe said at the meeting. “I don’t know any way to enforce this other than a ban.”

Scott Overland said, “We clearly made an error two months ago,” and Susie Weinacht said the fireworks experiment went “beyond inconvenient.”

Tuesday’s vote instructs city staff to draft ordinances to put in effect the sentiment of the council. The ordinances would be voted on before the next statewide legal fireworks window around New Year’s Eve.

The vote symbolizes a 180-degree turnaround by elected officials who voted 5-2 on May 26 for the most lax rules allowed under a newly adopted state law, which legalized consumer fireworks sales and use from June 1 through July 8 and Dec. 10 to Jan. 3, generally from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m.

New rules in Cedar Rapids restrict sales locations to industrial zones after permitted vendors were allowed to set up in permanent structures and tents around the city. Cedar Rapids has large industrial areas in the south part of the city, as well as smaller pockets elsewhere. The city has 6,441 acres zoned industrial or 14 percent of the city’s total acreage.

Cedar Rapids is looking to Des Moines, which restricted sales locations this summer, for ways to tailor the rules. Des Moines officials, for example, restricted sales to industrial zones and also forbid fireworks in its downtown overlay district, said Emily Muhlbach, a spokeswoman for the Cedar Rapids community development department.

“Staff is exploring more specific policy options to further define which industrial areas are appropriate for the sale of fireworks, based on safety issues and the compatibility with surrounding land uses,” she said. “Another approach is a required separation distance from residential property.”

Sales location rules will be refined at future City Council meetings.

Residents quickly and vocally lashed out at elected officials after explosions boomed around the clock all across the city in June and early July.

Public safety officials pointed to a handful of fires and injuries, and hundreds of calls for service related to fireworks. Air quality and ground water samples turned up higher levels of toxins during periods of heavy fireworks use.

“Fireworks in densely populated communities put citizens at risk for more fires and injuries,” Fire Chief Mark English said.

An online petition signed by nearly 5,000 people called for a ban citing negative impact on military veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, young children and pets; safety concerns; and air, water, and ground pollution. Some of those sentiments were voiced on Tuesday.

“It doesn’t make sense to me we have untrained amateurs shooting off explosives in neighborhoods where there are children and people with mental challenges and PTSD and regular citizens like me who weren’t prepared for war this summer,” said Diana Patten, of Cedar Rapids. “People untrained, unlicensed, with alcohol shooting off explosives makes no sense whatsoever.”

Plenty of people supported fireworks, enough to encourage the highest numbers of vendors in the state.

“It took us 80 years to get this legalized in Iowa, we shouldn’t just arbitrarily toss this out because a few people complained because they have PTSD,” said Virginia Harlow, who identified as a military veteran.

Elected officials acknowledged enforcement will be a challenge but said they have confidence in police. Fines will start at $250 and they are unscheduled violations meaning offenders will have to appear before a judge, Cedar Rapids police Capt. Jeff Hembera told the council.

l Comments: (319) 339-3177; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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