Council’s Code Change Could Impact Some Businesses

OCEAN CITY — When you hear it explained, it seems like common sense, but if you were to read the entirety of the newly adopted mechanical code in Ocean City, it seemingly makes very little sense at all.

The City Council may have unanimously passed a new mechanical code on Tuesday afternoon at City Hall, but there were some who raised their hands with visibly befuddled looks on their faces.

Chief Building Official Kevin Brown admits that there are parts of this complex state mechanical code that he hasn’t fully digested yet, citing confusing terminology, cloudy descriptions and countless exceptions or variances.

Yet, the council passed through Brown’s recommendation to adopt the 2006 International Mechanical Code and the 2006 International Residential Code on Tuesday as well as the Maryland State Plumber’s Code, perhaps on the notion that the town wanted to comply with the state’s wishes after some close brushes with mechanical disasters over the summer months.

After two very public carbon monoxide leaks at downtown resort businesses, and one leak in 2006 that claimed the life of two people at an oceanfront hotel, the town received a letter from Steven Smitson of the state’s Department of Occupational and Professional Licensing on Aug. 14 that essentially implored that the town get up to date with the plumber’s code and other mechanical codes adopted by state municipalities.

“The current policy places the health and safety of the residents, workers and visitors of Ocean City at great risk,” read Smitson’s letter. “Without this system of permits and inspections, it is impossible to tell if, in fact, performed by properly licensed individuals and whether these services comply with the plumbing code.  Therefore, the board recommends that the city adopt policies requiring that all gas fitters require a permit and have all projects inspected.”

Simply put, Brown vehemently recommends that any and all gas fitting devices in commercial and residential portions of the resort be handled, disconnected, and reconnected by licensed gas fitters only.

During a past conversation on the subject, Councilman Joe Hall had argued that at his restaurant on 60th Street, his in-house handyman did the rather routine disconnecting and reconnecting of gas ovens and fryers when the restaurant’s kitchen was being cleaned.  Despite Hall’s absence on Tuesday, Brown sent the message pretty clear.

“[Hall] or anyone else in the restaurant industry shouldn’t be doing the disconnecting or reconnecting of any kind in house, unless it’s by someone that has a state certified license,” said Brown, “It’s just common sense to let the professionals handle it.”

Essentially, these changes which mainly apply to large mechanical appliances involving gas fitting devices, are for single-family homes, duplexes, town homes of less than three stories in height, according to Brown, who said that the code is trying to create a level of public safety and prevent carbon monoxide or other hazards rather than discourage “do it yourself” home projects.

“It’s been a state law since 1995, but we have had no technical mechanical code in 20 years,” said Brown. “We’ve always relied on the licensed and certified installers. But, with as big as this town has gotten and the size of some of our buildings, it is time that we adopt this.”

Still, the jargon confused a few of the voting seven on Tuesday, leading to a rather long discussion about something that seemed to be as simple as, ‘if it uses gas, hire a pro.’

“I get why they are doing this, but this code is as clear as mud, said Councilman Jim Hall. “What is going to change tomorrow from how it is done today by us voting for this?”

Brown said the answer was that it is now a requirement to use a state-licensed gas fitter, which now that it is a town law, could be punishable by a municipal infraction, which could be up to $1000.

“The way I see it, “if you have yourself a gas fitters’ license, you are about to get a whole lot of business,” said Council President Joe Mitrecic.