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A house divided: Garrett, builders differ on stairs

Commission hears both sides on code for sprinklers

Elaine Blaisdell Cumberland Times-News

OAKLAND — On Tuesday, following a public hearing on the re-adoption of a building code ordinance, Garrett County commissioners decided to keep the public record open for an additional 10 days with a final decision to be made at the Sept. 4 meeting.

Commissioners decided to leave the public record open because some county builders just learned of an amendment regarding stairway geometry and they wanted to assure compliance with Maryland Building Performance Standards.

“We are concerned that some people have just now heard of the stair geometry,” said Chairman Jim Raley, who said public comments will be taken until 4:30 p.m. Aug. 31.

The building code ordinance would adopt 2012 editions of the International Building, International Residential Code and International Energy Conservation codes, according to Jim Torrington, chief of the Garrett County Permits and Inspections Division.

“In 1997, the county adopted the first building code and amendment from the state that allowed for a steeper set of stair geometry,” said Torrington.

Torrington said the county carried the state amendment through until 2000, 2003 and 2006 Building Code Ordinances.

“In 2009, the state dropped that amendment and went with a less steep set of stairs. The county went forward with that provision in our building code in 2009.”

Seven local builders have signed a petition requesting that the commissioners consider steeper stair geometry in new homes in the county, according to Torrington.

“The reasoning is that, in terms of a narrow-width home, they are having trouble getting a less steep set of stairs into the home,” said Torrington.

The commission also discussed the International Residential Code regarding residential sprinklers.

The Department of Permits and Inspections Divisions was notified by the Maryland Codes of Administration of the modification to the residential sprinkler law, which will allow the county to opt out of the mandate if they decide to do so before Oct. 1.

“We can maintain the sprinkler requirement for homes until 2015,” said Torrington.

Torrington has received written comments from the Garrett County Board of Builders and Bob Browning asking the commissioners to maintain the opt-out provision for residential sprinklers.

Deputy State Fire Marshal Jamie Rodeheaver urged the commissioner not to opt out of the sprinkler mandate.

“The requirement for residential sprinklers for newly constructed one- and two-family dwellings are considered a minimum requirement of the code,” said Rodeheaver.

“Fire sprinkler requirements for newly constructed homes are a significant component of the occupant protective package. Fire sprinklers save lives.”

The sprinkler mandate could cost new builders anywhere from about $6,000 to $20,000, depending on what is needed to install the sprinklers, according to Raley.

“I hope we do something to encourage this in the future,” said Raley. “I would like to see the commission do something similar to an incentive, as has happened in other places. I do recognize what is being said here about the cost factor. At the worst time in building we are throwing all those things in there.”

Several local builders continued in their request to preserve the commissioners’ opt-out provision of the residential sprinkler code, even in light of the fire marshal’s statments.

“I understand and appreciate everything that Mr. Rodeheaver said. We are all about safety, but we are about survival as well in terms of economically,” said Karen Myers of Mountaineer Log and Siding Company.

“We recognize that sprinklers are coming — this is simply a delay.”

Nicole Christian, president and CEO of the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce also said that the chamber voted to recommend that the county opt out of sprinkler code until 2015.

Contact Elaine Blaisdell at eblaisdell@times-news.com.

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