Fredonia Board approves new rooftop law

The controversial law proposed in Fredonia that curbs rooftop use on private property officially passed the village board during its special meeting Monday.

After a heated discussion during the public hearing of the law, which now prohibits rooftop usage potentially putting anyone’s safety in jeopardy, Trustee Susan Mackay voted “nay” on the measure, while trustees Joseph Cerrie, Phyllis Jones and Janel Subjack voted in favor.

Trustee Marc Ruckman was not present for the meeting, but previously expressed his reservations about such a law put in place.

Three votes were needed for the law to pass.

“I completely agree with the intent of this law, but I would like to see some changes in wording, and I hope that will come about by case law,” Mackay said when questioned about her vote. “I would just like to see certain things more clearly defined, as well as having balconies a separate subject (from rooftops) in the law.”

Mayor Stephen Keefe said he was glad the board “did the right thing” in approving the law.

“I think it’s a good law. It might have some kinks that we work out over the future, but if we can save lives and prevent injury, it’s worth passing a law of this nature,” he added. “It’s a shame you have to pass laws for this, but people are dying (in some places) from bad decision-making, and a lot of the time, it’s in elevated positions, like rooftops and balconies falling over and collapsing with people on them.”

Several members of the public spoke out against the law during the public hearing, including resident Mary Jane Starks, Planning Board member James Lynden, landlord Michaelene Comerford and Ellicottville Brewing Company Owner James Nau.

“I don’t feel that regulating what happens on private property is something the village should get involved in; this should be something between the property owners, tenants and the insurance companies,” Starks said.

Lynden agreed, adding a law of this nature violates freedoms guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, namely the right to choose and the freedom of association.

“People make choices that aren’t necessarily in their best interests, but it’s not (the village’s) part to tell them what they should do,” he said. “Based on what this law has addressed, (the village) cannot determine when a situation turns dangerous. I appreciate the (board’s) concern for people’s safety, but I am opposed to the law directed toward the user, not the use of the property (as covered under the village zoning and building codes).”

Village Attorney Samuel Drayo stressed a number of times that rooftops and balconies are not the point of concern in the law.

“It’s the conduct on the structure that can imperil human life that’s illegal under this law; sitting down and having a drink with dinner is not conduct that anybody would infer or define as imperiling a human life or public safety,” he said. “Discretion is given to the police officer who sees the dangerous conduct, involving a couple of things, like partying, drinking, overcrowding, that sort of thing, and they will determine (if a violation exists).”

Keefe added people will still be permitted to be on a roof for repairs, among a number of other permissible reasons.

“The behavior we’re looking at is dangerous situations created by people being on the roof, and that’s where this law comes into play,” he said. “Recently, my wife walked by a house and there were kids throwing a football on a roof; that’s not safe activity … we’re going to stop the dangerous behavior.”

“I understand and agree with the intent of the law, but it seems a little hasty,” Nau, whose Fredonia bar restaurant has a balcony, said. “You’re telling me that a portion of my livelihood can be selectively interpreted as illegal under this law, which is so vague and interpretive.”

Police Chief Bradley Meyers addressed that concern.

“We deal with situations where we use discretion every day. In fact, when discretion is removed from the law, such as for domestic violence laws, it creates shock and awe in our profession,” he said. “We are certainly not running around beating people with batons and tasing people. This (law) is a tool to help us create a safe environment for this community and prevent a tragedy. Of course we’re going to give a warning and ask them to get down before we impose an arrest.”

According to the new law, “No owner or tenant of any premises or any other person shall use, permit, or allow the use of a roof or porch roof or balcony of a building in a manner … as to create a condition that may imperil the safety, life, or cause injury to any person …”

A violation could be punishable by a fine of at most $500.

The law is mainly in response to last year’s SUNY Fredonia FredFest celebration, when a large number of college students drank and partied on a Canadaway Street residence’s porch rooftop. SUNY Fredonia administrative officials and student leaders have come out in support of the new law, according to Keefe.

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