Enforcement of an ordinance requiring the installation of sprinkler systems in all new single family dwellings beginning January 1st, 2011, was called into question once the County Commissioners got down to business after electing presiding officers. The previous body adopted the regulation last June, but on this first day of business for the new Republican board, officials voted 3 to 2 to consider postponing the ordinance for up to six months as they need time to consider whether to keep the requirement.
The request, brought up by Commissioner Robert Hodge, resulted in an exchange with the professional staff about technicalities related to this action. A public hearing is required to change the law since it’s already on the books and the Licensing and Inspection Dept. is required is required to enforce the requirement starting New Year’s day. When permits are requested for projects beginning on that date, plan reviewers will check to see the fire suppression system is included. Staff observed that there has been an increase in permit requests as builders get approvals before systems are mandated. After working out these practical concerns, the county said it would hold a public hearing to consider a moratorium on Jan. 4 at 7 p.m.
Questioning whether it was “the county’s role to make sprinklers mandatory on new construction,” Commissioner Robert Hodge said the board approved the rule because department heads had told elected officials they “had no discretion in adopting the sprinkler” law. He added that he now has a July opinion from the Attorney General’s Office and a letter from International Building Code authorities advising that local jurisdictions have considerable leeway as to whether to eliminate or revise the requirement found in the model codes. Emphasizing that his introduction of this matter was “not based on the merit of sprinklers,” he questioned: “Is it our role to make it mandatory on all new construction. Based on the 2010 vote, citizens don’t want this forced on them. They want to decide.”
As an alternative to the requirement for mandatory installation, the Commissioner suggested the county require builders to make the systems available at a reasonable cost so the buyer could decide on the installation. “That way it is up to the homeowner.”
People packed the standing room only first meeting of the new board, as an overflow crowd stood in the hallway. Looking around the room, over half the audience easily identified as local fire service representatives who had lobbied hard to get the law passed, the Commissioner observed if I’d know this was going to cause this kind of crowd, “I would have had 150 people here supporting this.” Two former commissioners from the last board, Wayne Tome and Brian Lockhart, were standing in the audience.
Since this is a workshop the public isn’t allowed to comment, but officials exchanged a few remarks. “I think this is worthy of a lot more discussion, Commissioner Moore noted as Commissioner Dunn agreed. “I voted for the ordinance in June and there was a fatal fire in my district over the weekend, so I haven’t changed my mind,” President Mullin said.
Once the vote was taken, over half the room emptied out as the fire service representatives talked about the motion out in the hallway. They noted how the National Fire Administration’s had determined that residential occupancies should be equipped with sprinkler system to save lives, how there had been no loss of life in Prince Georges County homes equipped withthe supression systems, and much more.
When the vote was called on whether they should consider a moratorium of up to 6 months Commissioners Dunn, Hodge, and Moore voted in favor of considering a delay. President Mullin and Commissioner Broomell were opposed to the action. Thus with this first step passed, the board will formally consider a moratorium on January 4th at 7 p.m., as this change in the law needs to be advertised and a public hearing held before a ratifying vote can be taken.