After a significant amount of discussion and a number of failed motions and amendments, the Edmonds City Council Tuesday night approved an ordinance that requires installation of residential fire sprinkler systems in new construction of one-family and two-family homes and townhouses that are 3,000 square feet or larger in size.
The issue came before council to comply with state building code after a 2009 International Residential Code advisory group wrote fire sprinkler requirements for all residential construction, including townhouses and single-family dwellings. Edmonds in 1988 had instituted in its code sprinkler requirements for apartment but there was nothing on the books for single-family residences. The council’s Public Safety Committee had been meeting since April with representatives of various groups with an interest in the change, including fire officials, builders, real estate agents and sprinkler system installers.
Edmonds Fire Marshal John Westfall set the stage with a presentation to councilmembers on the value of such sprinklers in terms of saving lives and property. “Home fire sprinklers in combination with smoke alarms reduce the risk of deaths in homes by fire by 82 percent relative to having neither,” Westfall said. Compared to smoke detectors, sprinklers “provide an entirely different level of protection to people,” he noted, adding that smoke detectors alert people to fire but sprinklers give them a chance to get out safely by limiting smoke and fire damage.
As a result of those Public Safety Committee discussions, two identical ordinances were brought to Council with different square footage requirements — 3,000 or 5,000 — with the idea that the council would chose one of them. The homes in question are admittedly large — in fact, from 2007-2010 in Edmonds there were just five new homes of 5,000 or more square feet built and a total of 32 new homes built at 3,000 square feet or larger. The reasoning for not applying the code to smaller homes was twofold: Fires in larger homes pose a greater danger both to residents and firefighters, and advocates of affordable housing feared that the additional cost of installing fire sprinklers may put more affordable, smaller homes out of the reach of moderate-income home buyers.
The council took public testimony during a hearing. Ryan McIrvin, government affairs director for the Snohomish County Camano Island Association of Realtors, said his organization questioned the need for the sprinklers at all, describing the proposed ordinance as “a bit like using a bazooka for a fly swatter.” Edmonds resident Michael Echelbarger, former president of the Master Builders Association, added the sprinkler requirement was “like having a belt on and wearing suspenders too.”
After wide-ranging discussion, though, some on the council started questioning whether it would be better to require fire sprinklers on all new residential construction, regardless of square footage. That led to the idea that perhaps a new public hearing should be scheduled altogether, since the option of covering all homes under the law wasn’t included in the original council agenda information — and it wouldn’t be fair to those who didn’t have a chance to testify.
In the end, the council adopted a proposal to use a 3,000-square-foot threshold when requiring new construction to include a fire sprinkler system.
In other action, the council:
– Delayed until next week consideration of an ordinance related to perimeter buffers and their relationship to planned residential developments.
– Adopted a 1-percent increase in the 2011 property tax and emergency medical services levies and voted to continue the debt service levy for the Public Safety Complex at its current level.
– Authorized the city to advertise for bids to finish construction on the Interurban Trail, located in the Lake Ballinger neighborhood. Public Works Director Phil Williams noted that staff was able to add a significant environmental improvement to the design of the trail in recent months: It will now include 2,200 feet of pervious path, which will better absorb water and minimize runoff into the Lake Ballinger drainage basin.
– Approved the 2010-11 Capital Facilities Plan and Capital Improvement Project (CIP), with one addition to the CIP from Councilmember Lora Petso: a public market facility that could be included in the city’s Comprehensive Plan next year.
– Approved an updated compensation policy for non-represented employees.
Councilmembers D.J. Wilson and Adrienne Fraley-Monillas both voted against renewing the city’s contract with the Edmonds City Prosecutor, specifically citing her failure to charge anyone with a crime in the cutting down last summer of the 60-year-old Douglas Fir tree on city right-of-way at 3rd and Walnut. The contract was approved on a 5-2 vote.
During the audience comment period, Edmonds resident Don Hall took Council President Steve Bernheim to task for his decision to remove “No Dogs Allowed” signs from the pathway along Sunset Avenue before a law authorizing such a change had taken effect. “It seems to me that Councilmember Bernheim has little regard for ordinances he doesn’t like,” Hall said.
The Council quickly passed an ordinance a resolution, referred to as 1237, that was not on the agenda and was not explained to the those in the audience. My Edmonds News has asked for more detail on that, and will share it once we learn more.