Legislation amends construction and fire codes, worries Park City officials
Measure would set statewide standard
February 21, 2017
Ross Ford, the executive vice president of the Utah Home Builders Association, says he hopes a measure recently introduced in the Utah House of Representatives to amend construction and fire codes doesn't strain the organization's relationship with Park City Municipal.
House Bill 281 repeals municipal requirements related to fire safety, fire notification systems and fire suppression systems. The measure would set a statewide standard "so everyone knows when and why fire suppression is required," Ford said. The bill is currently under consideration in the Utah House of Representatives Business and Labor Committee.
"We kind of have that hodgepodge of different things in different communities so why not make this a standard so everyone knows what to expect?" Ford said in an interview with The Park Record.
The bill would rescind a municipality's authority to require new structures or subdivisions to have fire sprinkler systems under certain circumstances, a move that worries the city's elected leaders and officials with the Park City Fire District.
"If you look at the requirements, a very high percentage of Park City falls within the standards that are already set within state law," Ford said. "Now there may be some homes and some areas in Park City where fire suppression isn't necessary for the safety of the public. We have found the way it is being required in Park City is very dangerous for the homeowners, as far as the property damage caused by the water sprinklers."
Ford said Park City officials have voiced the only objections he has heard regarding the legislation. He added, "My perspective is it seems to be an emotional reaction because this doesn't just strip the use of fire suppression from the Park City area."
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"They feel some of their power as a municipality has been stripped from them, but, unfortunately, they have taken it to a level where they are operating different than anyone else in the state," Ford said. "I think we can pass it without them, but my only concern is we have always considered Park City a good ally so we hate having this rift.
"We hope this doesn't break down to where this becomes an adversarial relationship, but the whole state is looking at it saying this is good common sense," he said.
Park City's fire code ordinances date back to the 1990s, according to Scott Adams, assistant fire chief and district fire marshal. In 2006, Park City required fire suppression systems in all buildings to address the area as a wildfire urban interface.
"Park City has been very thorough in their analysis of what they need in the community," Adams said. "Not only do the sprinklers put out the fire, we have a lot of visitors that are unfamiliar with the structures and if there is a fire it protects them and allows them to be able to get out."
Adams said if the legislation is passed, it could require the city to overhaul its infrastructure and water system. The sprinklers typically release 20 to 30 gallons a minute, Adams said, adding the fire truck's water streams flow about 500 to 700 gallons a minute.
"I think that is one of the frustrating points is here the city and citizens have worked together over these years and now the legislature is proposing to take that away," Adams said.
Park City Councilor Andy Beerman said the city's unique location and historic district has always led to an exemption that allows the city to require fire suppression systems. Beerman said the Home Builder's Association's desire to "oversimplify" building requirements places the community at risk.
"Any time the state tries to adopt broad sweeping legislation it impacts our ability to fine-tune how we govern locally. We are on high alert with this one because it is a public-safety issue," Beerman said. "They have a belief that we need to simplify everything and we disagree. Their desire to simplify puts our community in danger when we have made this work for many years."
Beerman said he felt blindsided by the proposed legislation, adding "I really believe the Park City Home Builder's Association is being used." He said he was under the impression the Park City Home Builder's Association took issue with the use of water in the fire sprinklers because of the risk of freezing, not the system itself.
"I was surprised to get ambushed and I think the Utah's Home Builder's Association is convinced that all regulations are bad and they have convinced the Park City Home Builder's Association to not take a stance," Beerman said.
In an interview with The Park Record, Geri Strand, executive officer with the Park City Home Builder's Association, reiterated the organization's support of the bill.
"There are five provisions that do take into consideration some of the issues with Park City, which is not an anomaly. There are other places around the state with the same issues," Strand said.
Strand said the organization does not like the use of fire sprinkler systems because of the risk to the homeowner.
"I don't think he was ambushed. We in Park City don't like the sprinkler systems and we have been very willing to work with the city putting them in, but once it was turned to water that made it worse," Strand said. "Building in Park City is very difficult and the building department has been very supportive of us.
"We are not ambushing anyone. That's not the way we see it," she said.
To watch the bill's progress, go to http://le.utah.gov/~2017/bills/static/HB0281.html.