MARION — In April, the Marion City Council voted to limit the sales of fireworks to the city’s industrial areas. The ordinance came about a year after Cedar Rapids passed a similar rule.
Iowa legislators opened the state up to firework sales in 2017. The law allows sales in permanent structures from June 1 to July 8 and in temporary structures from June 13 to July 8.
Since the law passed, vendor tents have popped up each summer in parking lots and along roadsides, creating congestion in commercial areas and disputes between business owners and temporary vendors.
This past week, The Gazette sat down with Dave Hockett, the principal planner with the city of Marion’s Community Development Department, to discuss the ordinance that will take effect this fireworks season.
Q: Why was the ordinance created?
A: “The City Council had received quite a few comments and complaints from residents regarding the number of tents and semi-trucks and storage containers that were popping up along Seventh Avenue and obstructing parking and blocking access to certain areas.
There were also issues over parking lot space. Vendors would set up their tents and block parking spaces, which created conflict between businesses and vendors. So the city began looking at its options, and one was to relegate vendors to areas with more open space and less commercial traffic.”
Q: What does the ordinance do?
A: “The ordinance limits the sale of fireworks to the city’s industrial areas. That means vendors can only set up in the city’s I-one restricted industrial zone, the I-2 general industrial zone and M-districts, which are zoned for manufacturing. In Marion, that means vendors can only set up shop along Seventh Avenue from 44th Street and heading east toward the Marion Airport — just southeast of the police station — and we have a few industrial properties along Highway 13, just south of the Walmart at 10th Avenue and Highway 13.”
Q: What effect do you think the ordinance will have on fireworks sales this year?
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A: “After Cedar Rapids passed its ordinance (which went into effect last year), we were just inundated with vendor applications. I believe we got about 20 vendor applications last year, which is close to double the number we received in 2017, which was the very first year we had vendors.
This year, I think we’ll see fewer vendors but a higher concentration of them in the areas where they are allowed. That said, I don’t think that is solely because of the ordinance. I can’t say for sure, but I think it’s plausible that vendors saw a dip in sales last year because there was such a high concentration of vendors in one area, and I think it also might be partly due to supply and demand.”
Q: How do you enforce an ordinance like this?
A: “I don’t think there is much we would have to do to enforce the ordinance. In order for vendors to receive a permit to sell fireworks, they have to get a zoning verification letter from the city’s Community Development Department, and without the letter they don’t get their license. And if a vendor were to set up illegally someplace, the local fire marshal and the state authorities would get involved. Aside from that, local police and fire personnel might do periodic checks on the vendors to ensure compliance and safety.”
Hockett said the ordinance does not limit the number of vendors allowed to sell in the city as long as those vendors can find a space within the permitted zones. The city, he said, already has started receiving vendor applications for the coming season.
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