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2:33 PM Fri, Oct. 19th

Smoking restrictions may fizzle; code changes get mixed reviews from Prescott Council

PRESCOTT - Tightening up smoking restrictions on private property was a nonstarter this week for the Prescott City Council, as well as for much of the public.

At their Tuesday, Jan. 26 meeting, council members voiced unanimous opposition to a code-enforcement option that would have dramatically limited smoking cigarettes in private backyards and decks.

Councilman Steve Sischka called the proposal "flat-out un-American," while several members of the audience warned that the restrictions would put the city on a "slippery slope."

Still, some support arose for expanding the smoking ban in public places, such as city parks, along with for two other code-enforcement changes.

The presentation on four code-enforcement changes was on the agenda for discussion only, and council members did not take a vote. But they did give direction to City Attorney Jon Paladini to bring back two of the changes for a vote in the future.

For instance, the change that would shorten the grandfathered time for "legal non-conforming uses" in residential zones appeared to have unanimous support of the council.

In a memo, the city's legal department explained that a "legal non-conforming use" currently has a year before its grandfathered rights are considered "abandoned." Under the proposed change, that would be shortened to six months.

Councilman Greg Lazzell called the change a "no-brainer," and said he would support it. Other council members agreed.

In past discussions, city officials have pointed out that new zoning requirements for group recovery homes largely do not apply to facilities that were in existence before implementation of the code changes. (In September 2013, the city approved stricter group-home regulations, such as requiring buffer zones between new group homes, and reducing the allowed number of unrelated people in a house - changes that were refined by further council action in April 2015.)

Existing homes that do not comply with the new restrictions are considered legal non-conforming uses. Under the existing city law, if the group-home is temporarily discontinued, the use is grandfathered for a year. The proposed ordinance change would cut the grandfathered time in half in residential zones. (Non-residential zones would continue under the one-year requirement.)

Paladini pointed out that the change would apply citywide - not just for group homes.

A majority of the council also appeared to support a change dealing with "nuisance property." Currently, according to the memo, the city code "does little to combat situations on properties where negative behavior and activities of the residences are frequent and ongoing."

The proposed code change defines disruptive activities as including: loud music; boisterous gatherings; excessive loud or unnecessary noises; altercations such as fighting, disruptive conduct, or brawling; and illegal drug use.

Lazzell suggested that the city attorney's office should bring back the legal non-conforming use change, as well as the nuisance change, in ordinance form. After the meeting, Paladini said the two changes could be back on the council agenda by about March.

The two other proposed code-enforcement changes did not fare as well with the council - especially the one dealing with smoking.

The current city code prohibits smoking in city facilities and buildings, with some exceptions. The draft ordinance would have added the prohibition of smoking in all city parks and park systems, as well as in some private-property areas.

Under the private-property section, the proposed ordinance stated that smoking would have been prohibited in: all multi-unit residence common areas, except in an outdoor common area designated by a landlord as a smoking area; all areas within 20 feet of doors, windows, air ducts and ventilation systems of multi-unit residences, except while passing on the way to another destination; all single-family and multi-family outdoor balconies, porches, decks, patios, carports or areas of any residence from which second-hand smoke may be detected on any parcel other than the parcel upon which the person is smoking.

A number of the past complaints the city has received regarding group recovery homes have dealt with excessive smoking in backyards and on patios.

Still, council members said that regulating smoking in private homes and yards would go beyond what they want to pursue.

Councilwoman Jean Wilcox did voice support, however, for expanding the city's smoking prohibition to include city parks and other public areas.

While most of the people who spoke opposed the heightened smoking restrictions, the council also heard support from residents who said they have asthma, which is triggered by second-hand smoke.

The council agreed that the city attorney's office should bring back several options for consideration concerning smoking regulations, as well as the code change dealing with neighborhood preservation/property maintenance.

Follow Cindy Barks on Twitter @Cindy_Barks. Reach her at 928-445-3333, ext. 2024 or 928-642-0951.