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Are backyard fire pits legal in Greenport? Village wants to set the record straight

Current Greenport codes restrict residents from ‘outdoor burning’  on their property — but should that include backyard bonfires?

Officials discussed the idea of codifying regulations surrounding backyard fire pits at a work session Thursday night.

Current code prohibits “outdoor burning of any material or structure unless authorized by the Village Fire Department or authorized representative by issuance of a permit.”

Village administrator Paul Pallas said he’s been researching how other municipalities regulate — or do not regulate — small backyard fires and what restrictions the village could consider enacting. “In my opinion, our code is somewhat open to interpretation because of the open burning language that’s in there,” he said.

Village mayor George Hubbard Jr. said the intent isn’t to outlaw fire pits, but clarify a contradictory code. He said fire pits would be permitted in order to “keep the ambiance of what people want to do in their backyard” while restricting unchecked burning of paper, leaves and other rubbish. 

Trustee Mary Bess Phillips pointed out that many residents already have outdoor fire pits in their backyard. “So I think we need to make the code clearer and a distinction on which is which,” she said.

Several safety concerns were raised by trustee Peter Clarke, who said that, especially in densely populated areas, sparks and embers could be destructive. “We have a neighbor that burns regularly on weekends and it’s very hard for me to relax until [they’re] finished at night,” Mr. Clarke said. “There are trees overhead, we’re in the middle of a drought.”

He agreed that code should not restrict people’s enjoyment of their backyards. “I don’t want to limit that,” Mr. Clarke said. “But I think it should be regulated as well as we could.”  

Mr. Pallas plans to work alongside village attorney Joe Prokop on drafting code, which could include regulations like requiring a garden hose or other water source nearby and maintaining distance from side yards and structures. “All of those things we would certainly be putting in,” Mr. Pallas said. “They are clearly spelled out in most of the codes I’ve read.”