This work session was a continuation of an earlier session in which the city’s fire chief argued for stricter fire regulations than are currently in force. As he explained after the meeting, the city council this year re-adopted the 2009 International Building Codes in order to eliminate certain extra safety requirements that had been added by an earlier council. In dispute were standards requiring automatic sprinklers in buildings of 10,000 square feet and larger, which would be costly to some businesses. Councilmembers have named Barber Companies and Southpace as two businesses concerned with the prospect of adding costly sprinklers.
In the first session, which was postponed until after the budget was passed, Bresnan had begun presenting five proposed amendments to address safety
concerns and also costs to businesses. For existing buildings of 10,000 square feet or more, Bresnan’s proposals would trigger the sprinkler requirement if renovations 1.) involved 40% of existing square footage, or 2.) more than 50% of the total of current and past renovations. To questions by the council, Bresnan said his main purpose was concern for the safety of the firefighters due to building size.
Members present: Council president Bruce Limbaugh, Britt Thames, Vance Moody, Patrick McClusky, Jenifer Champ Wallis, Heather Reid, Rich Laws, and Peter Wright.
Members absent: Michael Hallman, Fred Hawkins, and Walter Jones.
Staff present: Linda Cook, city clerk, and Mike Kendrick, city attorney.
Audience attendance: 3
Much discussion followed about sprinkler options and the impact of them on businesses. Some of the council’s questions involved speculations about costs to businesses of getting an adequate water supply to run sprinkler systems–Bresnan said there was no way to know how much businesses were willing to pay. One councilman asked why Homewood’s firefighters needed more protection than other municipalities, and was this a valid reason to potentially “turn away” businesses. Council members asked if there were other criteria beside size to consider for requiring sprinklers, such as building type, materials, or occupancy. When 1 1/2 hours of discussion failed to yield any consensus, the council voted to postpone the matter again, this time by referring it to the Public Safety Committee. The following are some council questions, and a few answers from the fire chief.
1) How does Homewood compare to other over-the-mountain cities with regard to codes and amendments? Vestavia, Hoover, Gardendale, Pelham, Trussville, Birmingham and Homewood all have enacted 2009 IBC, IFC and EBC codes. Of those, Vestavia and Trussville have added additional safety amendments.
2) Does Homewood need more resources or to change the code to be adequately covered? According to the chief, Homewood needs one new ladder truck, a crew for it, and a building to house it. He did not offer that more equipment would substitute for less stringent building codes.
3) Is building density a special concern for Homewood firefighters?
4) Does type of renovation make more sense than square footage when deciding if sprinklers are needed?
5) Should the city offer businesses tax incentives to help with the cost of building/fire code compliance?
When questions like these were exhausted, a motion was made and seconded to refer this issue to the Public Safety Committee. The session adjourned and the council reconvened at 6 p.m. for the regular council meeting.