Council split on residential sprinkler requirement
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – A divided Glenwood Springs City Council will likely revisit the question of whether to require fire protection sprinkler systems in new homes before the provision goes into effect in January 2013.
Council adopted the requirement for home sprinkler systems in all newly constructed single-family and duplex units as part of the uniform 2009 International Residential Code (IRC).
Sprinkler systems are already required for multi-family residential construction involving three units or more with shared walls.
The new requirement for single-family and duplex units is set to take effect at the first of the year. The city has the option to remove it from the local code before the end of this year.
The controversial code provision is supported by fire protection agencies, including Glenwood Springs fire officials, who see it as an extra measure to save lives and limit property damage in the event of a fire.
“You need to make an honest decision on this based on good education,” Glenwood Springs Fire Marshall Ron Biggers urged council members at their Thursday night meeting. “This is a life-safety issue.”
But the building and real estate industries are adamantly opposed to the new mandate.
“This is an expensive solution to a problem that is easily solved by smoke detectors,” said Bob Jenkins of Woody Creek, who chairs the government affairs committee for the local chapter of the Colorado Association of Homebuilders.
“It’s overreaching, uneconomical and not desired by the consumer,” he said.
Extra costs associated with the installation and ongoing maintenance of sprinkler systems, as well as the potential for water damage if a system malfunctions, could also hurt new housing starts and slow economic recovery in jurisdictions that adopt the code, he said.
Cost estimates for the systems range anywhere from less than $2 per square foot of home size on the low end, up to $8 per square foot, depending on the type of system and local market factors.
Garfield County and some neighboring towns have opted to remove the sprinkler provision from their codes. The cities of Glenwood Springs and Rifle have yet to decide.
The six Glenwood council members present at Thursday’s meeting debated the question for nearly two hours before reaching a stalemate.
Councilmen Stephen Bershenyi, Leo McKinney and Dave Sturges came out in favor of keeping the new sprinkler requirement in the city’s residential building code.
“Our job is to protect the public safety and welfare of citizens,” Bershenyi said. “One human life saved solves the question for me, and I’m fully in favor of this code.”
But council members Todd Leahy and Mike Gamba and Mayor Matt Steckler were just as adamantly opposed.
“I’m behind our fire folks, don’t get me wrong, but I agree with arguments on both sides,” Leahy said. “What we’re being asked to do, though, is mandate what somebody else chooses to buy.
“I prefer that we not make that decision for people,” Leahy said. “If they want it, and are willing to pay for it, there are homebuilders out there who will put [sprinkler systems] in there for them.”
Council deadlocked on a motion to formally table the discussion until Councilman Ted Edmonds, who was absent Thursday, can weigh in on the issue at a future meeting.
Regardless, the matter could still be brought up for discussion in the next couple of months before the code provision takes effect.
The city’s appointed Building Board of Appeals also recommended keeping the requirement in the code.
In other business at the Thursday meeting, council:
• Granted approvals for the new High Country Honda dealership on Highway 6 in West Glenwood adjacent to the Village Green Apartments. The new dealership is to be operated by David McDavid, who is also building the new Chevrolet dealership next door.
• Approved plans for a new 115-space, two-level parking structure behind Valley View Hospital, where the existing surface parking lot is located.
• Approved plans by Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park to add six additional gondola cars to the existing 12-car tramway system that carries park visitors from Glenwood Spring up to the park on Iron Mountain. The tram expansion will increase the capacity from 268 visitors per hour currently to 334 per hour, according to Adventure Park co-owner Steve Beckley.
• Approved the new Multi-Jurisdictional Natural Hazard Mitigation Plan, which has been making its way around to all of the municipal and fire district jurisdictions in Garfield County.
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Policy that dictates what for-profit activities should be officially sanctioned within Glenwood Springs parks is being reviewed by city staff and will likely come before the city council for final approval later this summer.