On Tuesday night, members of the city council voted unanimously to approve the first draft of an ordinance prohibiting the use of so-called "outdoor hydronic heaters," also known as outdoor wood-fired heaters, within the city limits.
The devices resemble a small tool shed or outhouse and people typically burn firewood in them and use the heat to warm their homes.
There are a few homeowners in the city who currently use them, one of whom attended the council's meeting and said he chose to install the system at his home to save on heating bills. The new ordinance would not apply to him or anyone else who is already using one of these devices.
What the ordinance does prohibit is anyone, residential or commercial, from installing one of the burners in the future.
The reason why?
City Planner Shannon Norman and Fire Chief Bill Newgent said the smoke that these burners produce poses a health risk to humans.
Both Norman and City Attorney Laurie Hardwick said they have fielded concerns from homeowners living next to someone who is using one of these burners.
"My office has received several complaints," Norman said.
Fire Chief Newgent added his concern for the smoke.
"It is truly an air quality issue," he said. "It has caused some problems around the city."
Attorney Hardwick said residents who live near where these burners are used have complained that the owners are burning trash rather than firewood.
During the meeting, city officials talked about alternatives to a total ban on these types of heaters but agreed in the end that prohibition is the best option.
One alternative would be to require a taller chimney on the heaters, but Norman said the height required to allow the smoke to be released above surrounding structures wouldn't be practical given the size of the heaters themselves.
A second alternative, Norman explained, would be to restrict the time of year when these types of heaters can be used. But Norman said this wouldn't do anything to alleviate the smoke, which is at the heart of the issue.
City officials say other communities in the state are also dealing with this issue and have drafted similar ordinances.
"We believe it's only a matter of time for IDEM to step in and put rules in place for the entire state," Hardwick said.
Councilman Adam Cohen said he supports the ban and added his desire for the city to "be more aggressive" in regulating homeowners who currently use these types of heating methods. His comment came after the discussion of people burning trash in the heaters.
Councilman T.J. Smith said he has heard complaints from residents in his district, but the people he's talked to said they would prefer more regulations but not a total ban.
When the votes were cast, Smith voted against the ordinance while council members John Lanie, Jinsie Bingham and Cohen voted to approve it. Councilman Mark Hammer did not attend Tuesday night's meeting.
The council will have to vote at its May meeting to approve the ordinance a second time before it would take effect.
In other business, the city council:
* Approved the closing of Veteran's Memorial Highway, between Jackson Street and Cemetery Road, on May 3, from 9:45 to 11:30 a.m. The reason for the closure is to allow for the annual veteran's memorial celebration.
* Approved a noise waiver for DePauw to allow for Relay for Life at Blackstock Stadium. The waver will be in effect from noon May 3 to noon May 4.
* Approved closing of the streets around the Greencastle square to allow for "Fair on the Square" May 16-18. Streets will be closed beginning at 5 p.m. Thursday to 8 p.m. Sunday. Also they approved the closing of the south side of the courthouse square each Saturday for the weekly farmers' market. This begins June 7 and continues each Saturday from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. through Sept. 27.
* Approved a noise waiver for DePauw fraternity Phi Gamma Delta to host "Fiji Isle" on April 26 and 27. The waiver was approved for 9 p.m. April 26 until 1 a.m. April 27.