One fire at the Pine Knoll Apartments stunned the community when it burned fast and hot. Investigators blamed decorative pine straw spread close to the buildings.
Tuesday, Raleigh City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee weighed the pros and cons of keeping pine straw needles 10 feet away from apartments. But some apartment managers say switching to another landscaping material would cost them thousands.
"It seems like people think we have deep pockets. I'm speaking on behalf of my owner and we collect rents. We're there to maintain residence. But the residents are the ones who are causing the fires, not us," offered apartment manager Brenda Brantley. "It's going to cost us $19,500, that's real money that we did not budget. We just spent $13,000 in February to mulch and pine straw. Please consider implementing it within a year so we could cycle it into next year's budget."
The committee agreed to give people a year to make the changes. They'll also ask the entire city council to consider a pine straw ban alongside single family homes as well.
Firefighters also suggested a gradual switchover.
"Any statute has an economic impact, and I think council wants to be prudent with that," Raleigh Fire Department Chief John McGrath said. "It can't be the overriding issue, but there's room to be prudent and give people a grace period to become compliant.
Council members James West and John Odom said restricting pine straw use could affect jobs elsewhere in the state. There were also questions about a suggested 10 foot safety gap between the pine straw and apartment buildings, but after agreeing to a one year period for compliance by apartment owners, the committee voted unanimously to send the matter to full council next month.
"The mayor wanted to see a stricter ordinance, which is why we brought it to committee. So we'll see what the mayor has to say at this point in time," said Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin.
The entire Raleigh City Council will take up the ordinance at its meeting on May 4.