Council OKs first reading of ordinances

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

COVINGTON -- The Covington City Council approved the first reading of several ordinances at its Monday night meeting, including one that regulates the buying and selling of gems and precious metals.

The issue first came up in early 2009 when a businessman approached the city about opening a shop to buy gold. The council sent the matter to the Planning Commission, but a motion to approve the ordinance to limit such uses to industrial zonings died there for lack of a second and it was never taken up again. Planning Director Randy Vinson was hired a few months later and was unaware it had ever been an issue when two other applicants were approved and subsequently located along U.S. Highway 278.

"We just treated them as jewelry stores in determining the zoning class," Vinson said. "The same person who was turned down called and said, 'These people were allowed. Why not me?'"

City officials agreed to revisit the ordinance, which primarily sets requirements for record-keeping similar to what is in place for pawn shops. This will give the Covington Police Department a way to track merchandise to make sure it's not stolen. Police Chief Stacey Cotton said shops will be required to wait at least seven days before melting or grinding down the items.

"If one comes in and says 'We're going to be dealing in gold bullion in bulk,' that would be in a different class. At this point, we're going to continue to treat them like a jewelry store and require this reporting," Vinson said.

The council also approved the first reading of the much-debated ordinance addressing parking of commercial vehicles in residential areas.

The ordinance prohibits parking of any vehicle greater than a Class 3, or weighing more than 14,000 pounds, in a residential area, unless it is parked in a fully enclosed structure. School and church buses and government vehicles are excluded. Recreational vehicles are not.

Though the ordinance prohibits parking of construction equipment in residential areas, Virginia Hoffman, the resident whose complaint initiated the change to the ordinance, said she's not happy with the results. Hoffman complained to city officials after a neighbor parked construction equipment on his property.

But Hoffman said Monday that she's not satisfied because three panel trucks parked overnight in her neighborhood recently, and the ordinance won't prohibit those types of vehicles. She also noted the ordinance does not limit the number of vehicles that can be parked on residential property.

Mayor Kim Carter said the council deliberately did not limit the number of vehicles. Later, Councilwoman Janet Goodman said that because lots are typically small in Covington, the number of vehicles would automatically be limited. She also noted that residents don't want the government involved in such personal matters.

"I agree with you, Janet," said Councilman Chris Smith. "Government has got too much involvement in people's lives. We need to back away."

The current ordinance prohibits parking of any vehicle of more than 2,000 pounds without an enclosed structure on property of less than 3 acres. Carter said that is so restrictive that some large pickup trucks and SUVs would be in violation of those terms. Enforcement of the ordinance was suspended by the council last month until a new one could be adopted.

Finally, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance regulating outdoor burning. The current ordinance allows outdoor burning with a permit from the fire department, but Fire Chief Don Floyd said the department has never issued a permit during his tenure due to concerns about air quality and fire safety.

"In a densely populated area, if there are 15 or 20 people burning at the same time, it can cause big problems," he said.

Floyd said he does not support allowing outdoor burning in the city, but he drafted an ordinance regulating the practice because "if it's going to be allowed, I wanted to give an outlet to manage it."

Smith said he brought up the issue because he had received calls from constituents and because he thought it could help reduce the city's fees at the county landfill for disposal of yard clippings and other vegetation.

"If it's in the ordinance now to allow people to do it, we need to allow them to do it. If not, we need to take it out," Smith said.

The ordinance limits outdoor burning to the hours of 10 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., and only with a permit from the fire department. It prohibits burning of petroleum-based products, such as tires, plastics and roof shingles; garbage; and material in a barrel or drum. It also prohibits burning on windy days or days when atmospheric conditions would cause smoke to remain low on the ground.

The fire chief will have the authority to order extinguishment of any fire that "adversely interferes with enjoyment of life or use of property" and to ban outdoor burning in a limited area if he receives documentation showing that a resident has a medical condition exacerbated by smoke.

The ordinance also prohibits recreational fires within 25 feet of a structure or combustible material and burning of yard waste within 50 feet, sets rules for bonfires and burning for land clearing purposes, and sets fees for violations.

A second reading of these ordinances is set to take place at the council's Nov. 15 meeting.