Basalt playing reruns of TV controversy
Ryan Summerlin March 15, 2014
The Basalt Town Council has a thing for reruns.
For at least the fourth time in six months, the council debated on Tuesday night whether outdoor televisions should be banned in the town. After an intense discussion, the board was no closer to a solution than when debate erupted in September.
Mayor Jacque Whitsitt got so frustrated over the council plowing old ground Tuesday night that she urged members of the public not to weigh in on the topic unless they had something new and admonished the board for “wasting people’s time” and “wasting taxpayers’ money.”
“There’s really nothing new to be said here,” Whitsitt declared.
“I don’t know why anyone thinks this gentleman needs a TV outside. It’s nutty to me.”
She was wrong.
Councilman Rick Stevens has voted consistently to ban outdoor television use, but he flipped Tuesday. He said outdoor televisions should be allowed as long as they are properly screened from adjacent neighbors and people living higher on a slope.
Stevens said he changed his mind after listening to public comments on both sides of the issue at the meeting. He said the issue is one of “personal liberties.” Stevens said residents of the Hill District — where the use of an outdoor TV last year generated complaints — should anticipate that they must resolve issues civilly with neighbors when living in a neighborhood where lot sizes are typically small and houses are close together.
“Part of living up there is dealing with your neighbors’ idiosyncrasies,” he said.
The outdoor television that’s created the controversy is on the roof of Garrett Reuss’ house at 303 E. Sopris Drive. After acting on a complaint, the town’s Technical Review Committee ruled on April 5 that the television violated the town lighting code. Gregory Zec, who lives beside Reuss, launched a petition drive later than month demanding the town enforce the decision and make Reuss take down the TV.
The issue was appealed to the Town Council, which voted, 4-3, on Sept. 9 that the TV didn’t violate the lighting code. After a motion to reconsider, the board reversed itself on a 4-2 vote Oct. 7. Whitsitt changed her vote from allowing the TV to prohibiting it.
Reuss eventually was cited for a lighting-code violation last fall after he failed to remove the outdoor TV. He received a deferred judgment and sentence on Jan. 3 in Basalt Municipal Court. He was told not to commit the same violation or a similar one over the next year. He also was given 90 days to remove the TV. The deadline is April 4, according to the court file.
But Reuss wants his TV and, with the help of attorney David Myler, has tried patiently to sway the council.
His first opportunity came in February when the Town Council considered an ordinance that its planning staff said “cleans up” numerous minor issues in the town code. The ordinance contains provisions on everything from lot-line setbacks for sheds to placement of air conditioners in the setbacks and bans on outdoor televisions. The council approved a first reading of the ordinance on Feb. 25, but opposition surfaced Tuesday on a second and final reading.
Myler urged the council to reconsider a ban on outdoor televisions. Instead, they should be allowed with proper screening to block the light at night, he said. He claimed that the complaints were about perceived problems that are “exaggerated and unfounded” rather than actual issues. The television has been on only a few times, he said.
“We think this issue is much to-do about nothing,” Myler said.
Councilwoman Karin Teague called the argument “totally disingenuous.” Multiple neighbors have commented that Reuss’ use of the TV would affect their quality of life.
“I don’t know why anyone thinks this gentleman needs a TV outside. It’s nutty to me,” Teague said.
The council didn’t resolve the issue. It voted, 4-2, to remove the outdoor TV ban from the broader ordinance so it can be considered separately or as part of a general nuisance ordinance at a time to be determined. Stevens and Councilmen Mark Kittle, Rob Leavitt and Glenn Rappaport voted for the motion. Whitsitt and Teague voted against it.
“OK, we get to play this more,” Whitsitt said in an irritated tone after the vote.