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Published: 6/12/2003

Residential occupancy limit sought

BY KIM BATES
BLADE STAFF WRITER

BOWLING GREEN - To one city councilman here, a recently proposed ordinance calling for occupancy limits at residences is simply one that addresses general public safety for everyone.

But to another councilman, the legislation is unfair because it appears to single out certain residents - namely, Bowling Green State University students.

For the first time last week, Bowling Green Councilman Stan Bortel brought before council an ordinance that calls for maximum occupancy limits at homes or apartments that have only one door exit to the outside.

Mr. Bortel said he proposed the ordinance to help combat problems like fire fatalities that can be associated with people trying to flee crowded places.

He added that he believes his proposal is nothing but an extension of current commercial fire codes, which allow fire officials to regulate maximum occupancy rates in places like bars and entertainment facilities.

The councilman said recent deaths, like that of five college students near Ohio State University, as well as the deaths of three Bowling Green residents May 13, bothered him and played a role in his decision to seek new legislation.

Other similar fire fatalities across the nation had an impact on him as well, he said.

“I would rather be proactive in preventing a loss of life instead of waiting until something happens and then say: `Gee, I wish I had done something,'” Mr. Bortel said yesterday.

According to the proposed new law, a door exit to a balcony, porch, or deck shall not be considered an exit unless it has a stairway, fire escape, or other means to reach ground level outside the structure.

Anyone found guilty of violating the ordinance would face a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

The city fire chief could not be reached for comment yesterday. But Mr. Bortel said he has spoken with the fire and police chiefs. Both indicated concerns with how the measure would be enforced, Mr. Bortel said.

Councilman Pat Ng said he believes Mr. Bortel's proposal is riddled with problems, because Mr. Ng believes it points only to college students, who make up the majority of renters in apartment buildings found in the city.

Mr. Ng said he has concerns about the legislation because he thinks it could violate a person's constitutional rights if police attempted to enter a crowded residence without a search warrant.

During a recent council meeting, the first reading of the issue attracted so much attention that Mr. Ng and several other members sought public hearings on the matter. They then agreed to table a third reading of the ordinance until fall.

Mr. Ng's main complaint was that legislation was being proposed just after the bulk of BGSU students left campus for the summer.

He then pushed for public hearings on the matter, the first of which is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. July 7 in council chambers.

A second hearing will be held after students return to BGSU in the fall.

“I said [at the meeting], `The students are all gone, and you try to slip something by them,'” Mr. Ng said yesterday.

Josh Kontak, student body president for BGSU undergraduates, said yesterday he was unaware of details of the proposal. But he said he plans to research the matter and how it may affect students.

Unlike many students, Mr. Kontak said he plans to remain in the city this summer and likely would attend the hearing on the issue next month.



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