Safety vs. privacy

A proposed local law in the village of Fredonia may soon ban the use of rooftops on private property in any manner that puts the safety of anyone in jeopardy.

The Fredonia Village Board, during a special meeting Monday, set a public hearing on the law for April 21 at 7:30 p.m. in the Trustees Room of Village Hall.

The law, which may be Local Law No. 2 of 2014, is in response to last year’s SUNY Fredonia FredFest, when a dangerous number of college students were photographed drinking and partying on a porch rooftop of a Canadaway Street residence, according to Mayor Stephen Keefe.

“Those porch roofs are held up by just a couple of stanchions, and if that would have collapsed, not only the people on the roof, but the people on the porch would have suffered major injuries, if not deaths,” he explained. “Unfortunately, sometimes you have to legislate common sense, and that’s what we’re looking at right now; how to create a safe environment. We need to take a responsibility for our local citizens. If we can take an action to protect our residents, we need to consider that action.”

Keefe added this law is not entirely in response to actions seen during last year’s FredFest, but that event “brought it to our attention in a major way.”

A violation under the proposed law is punishable by a fine not exceeding $500.

Trustee Marc Ruckman, along with two members of the public, voiced concerns over the adoption of such a law with regard to policing private property.

“This is government sticking its nose where it shouldn’t,” Ruckman said. “If this is targeted at FredFest weekend, why are we waiting until two weeks before to enact this law? We’ve had a year to come up with this and now we’re going to rush it through.”

Ruckman added he was told the college administration is pushing for this law. He said he is also concerned with overburdening Fredonia Police officers, especially when they are already busy during FredFest.

“I agree with things being safe for whoever is on a roof, but it’s none of our business; this is private property we’re talking about,” he stressed. “I’d also like to know if our insurance company has been made aware of this law, because I think there’s a liability issue out there (if a police officer doesn’t enforce the law and a person falls off their rooftop).”

SUNY Fredonia Public Relations Director Michael Barone said in a phone interview that the college is “in favor of anything that keeps people safe.”

“While we understand we are a college in a college town … sometimes people go too far, and I think we saw that last year,” he added. “If a law like this keeps some of that under control and keeps everyone safe, that’s something we would support.”

Resident James Lynden told the board the prohibition of standing on rooftops other than for construction purposes is already covered in the building code.

“I don’t think you need another law added to what we already have,” he said. “This would also be taking it out of the homeowner’s or landlord’s hands. A rooftop police patrol would be kind of ridiculous I think, and it would add another burden on the police department.”

Michaelene Comerford, another resident, echoed what Lynden said during the public portion of the meeting.

“This is something the landlords and property owners need to handle,” she said. “If they are so foolish and irresponsible not to, they may be leaving themselves open for a lawsuit. We can’t make people grow a conscience through legislation.”

Fredonia Police Chief Brad Meyers said he believes the law will have a “minimal” impact on the community.

“The purpose of the law is to stop excessive numbers of people getting up on their roofs, especially roofs that are in no way intended to hold that many people up and don’t have railings or anything preventing them from falling,” he said. “This is to prevent a tragedy; this isn’t to infringe on anyone’s rights.”

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