Superior City Council no longer requires interior sprinklers for Marshall Fire home reconstructions
The Higher Board of Trustees on Monday rejected an order that would have established regulations for the design of residential buildings and landscaping to reduce the risk of a wildfire spreading.
The board ultimately defeated the measure with a vote of 4-3.
The ordinance would have changed the city’s Building Code for residential construction, requiring homes to be constructed of flame-resistant, non-combustible materials.
In addition, homes should meet roof and eave installation standards that minimize wood siding exposure, have noncombustible or ignition-resistant decks, tempered and multi-layered glass windows, and mesh-covered vents to prevent flames and embers from entering.
The ordinance also required residential buildings to have an area of 5 feet of defensible space surrounding these structures where trees and shrubs are prohibited as well as any noncombustible fencing in the immediate area of the building’s perimeter.
Before council listened to public comment, Tim Moroney, the building manager for the city’s planning and construction department, spoke about the potential costs of the proposed ordinance.
“The materials that are going to be used in this proposal are mostly commonly used materials,” Moroney said. “I anticipate the costs of full compliance with this amendment would be very minimal…nowhere near the cost of the sprinkler system if that is a consideration.”
However, some members of the public were unconvinced.
Rob Lewisberg, who owns several investment properties in Superior, said he looked at the price of materials needed to meet that code, such as windows and siding.
“There is a substantial cost to building with this fire resistant material. You have to be honest with people about the true costs of this,” Lewisberg said. “Everything is exploding with inflation. There’s a cost to that, it’s not a minimum cost…it’s money, and it’s all on a mortgage, so there’s interest to pay,” he said.
Resident Keith Gibson, who lost his home in Old Upper Town, added: “Who wants a fucking cement or rock barrier around their homes? I mean it’s not fair, come on! We can’t afford this stuff.
Resident Eric Schnepp argued that adopting Wildland Interface Codes would be for the greatest good of the city.
“I have to believe that these codes will buy you, and that first responders have time to come in and put out the fire. I think we have to think about it as a whole community. Schnepp said. “I think that’s a good thing for all of Superior.”
There have been discussions among council members to remove certain aspects of the code from the ordinance, including the section calling for a ban on woody shrubs, trees, tree branches, cuttings and mulch.
The council also considered postponing the vote to a later meeting, so that building professionals could provide the council with more accurate figures.
However, the council decided to proceed with the vote, acknowledging the time constraints that many fire victims face as their cover for additional living expenses dwindles.
Ultimately, the motion failed with Administrator Ken Lish, Administrator Neal Shah, Administrator Paige Henchen, and Pro Tem Mayor Mark Lacis voting against the ordinance; and Administrator Laura Skladzinski, Administrator Tim Howard and Mayor Clint Folsom voting in favor of the ordinance.
Council also voted to pass an ordinance that will override the city’s 2018 International Residential Code provision requiring indoor sprinkler systems for residential properties affected by the Marshall Fire.
The ordinance will leave the choice of installing sprinkler systems up to homeowners. Those who do not wish to include sprinkler systems in their rebuild may choose not to participate.
The sprinkler requirement has been a contentious issue for several months as residents face insurance hurdles and unexpected rebuilding costs.
Most of the homes that burned in the Marshall Fire were built before 2012, when sprinkler systems were first required by the city.
Ahead of the ordinance’s passage on Monday, several members of the public spoke out against the requirements for the Marshall Fire rebuilds, citing concerns about the cost and effectiveness of the sprinklers.
“People can’t afford it, and you’re going to drive people out of here with this stuff,” Lewisberg commented.
The council discussed the sprinkler system requirements extensively in several meetings, and throughout the meetings, the opinions of several council members were exchanged on this issue.
“Going there, I’ve clearly been (a supporter) of keeping the sprinklers on, but over the past few weeks the volume of emails and comments we’ve received has been overwhelming, and that’s the one of those times when we have to stop and listen to what our residents want,” said administrator Ken Lish.
Mayor Clint Folsom was not in favor of eliminating the sprinkler requirement.
“Section 3 of this order which we are considering tonight is titled ‘Safety’. This order is deemed necessary for the protection, health, welfare and safety of the community. How can we justify that the removal fire sprinklers is necessary for the health, welfare and safety of the community?” asked Folsom.
Folsom said he thinks if the city keeps the mandatory sprinkler requirements, insurance companies will be more likely to cover the cost of installing sprinklers.
Mayor Pro Tem Mark Lacis disagreed.
“To respond to Mayor Folsom’s point that this order is necessary for the health, well-being and safety of the community – if people cannot afford to rebuild their homes, ultimately this is not good for the community,” Lacis said.
The motion passed 5-2, with Shah, Lish, Henchen, Howard and Lacis voting yes, and Folsom and trustee Laura Skladzinski voting no.