New Sprinkler Requirement Slows County Vote On Code

SNOW HILL – The official
adoption of new building standards already approved by the state and in use in
Worcester County will be delayed until a public hearing can be held on local
amendments to the building code.

On Tuesday, the County
Commissioners considered whether to officially adopt the International Building
Code (IBC), which was officially adopted by Maryland in the Building
Performance Standards Act, but ultimately decided to delay passage of the
legislation in order to have public hearings on amendments to the standards.

The county bill
officially enshrining the IBC is a housekeeping measure, said Development
Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor, since the county must abide by the
state’s decision, and since the new code is already in use in Worcester County.

The commissioners can
make amendments to the IBC to reflect local conditions and needs.

An IBC requirement that
new residences must include sprinkler systems is one contentious element in the
IBC that many in Worcester County have a strong opinion on.

The sprinkler system
issue would have to be dealt with whether or not the bill adopting the IBC was
passed, Tudor said.

“The bill doesn’t change
that one bit. The bill just gets our legislative house in order,” Tudor said.

“There’s an awful lot of
concern out there,” said Commission President Bud Church.

That is where the local
amendment process comes in, staff said.

While some provisions of
the building standards are essentially unquestionable, such as the need for
footers when constructing a new building, sprinklers do not fall into that
category, Tudor said.

“Sprinklers are
different because we have a number of volunteer fire companies,” said Tudor.

A number of state
jurisdictions are considering amendments to the sprinkler requirement in the
IBC, according to Tudor.

Currently, that decision
is up to the county, but in the future the county might not be allowed to make
such changes, county attorney Sonny Bloxom said.

On Tuesday morning, the
commissioners held a public hearing on the adoption of the legislation
enshrining the IBC in county law.

Larry Ward, a candidate
for county commissioner in District 1, described the IBC as having a “lot of
fuzzy areas.”

The county needs to look
at the other side, Ward said, and ask what kind of damage the code requirements
could cause.          The type of
sprinkler system should also be discussed, he said.

Joan Strang,
representing the Coastal Association of Realtors, said the association takes
issue with the sprinkler requirement.

“This is a concern to
the real estate community because of the additional cost … We feel it will have
an adverse impact on the real estate market as it is trying to recover,” said

“Basically you have the construction
industry in the county on its knees. You have the dagger in your hand,” said
Marty Groff, owner of Martin Groff Construction.

Sprinkler systems in new
homes could add $12,000 to $15,000 in costs to the new owner, Groff said. He
offered to give the county what he says is a long list of problematic
provisions in the IBC in the near future.

Fire Marshal Jeff
McMahon spoke in support of the sprinkler system requirement.

“I am a strong supporter
of residential sprinklers,” said McMahon.

Fire companies cannot
get firefighters to a fire in 90 seconds, but sprinkler systems can respond
that quickly, McMahon said.

“It’s 18 to 20 minutes
before we get water flowing over a fire,” McMahon said. “I do believe they save
lives and save property.”

Church, after the public
speakers, said he was concerned over the effect on the real estate market
because people can barely afford to build or buy a house right now.

The potential amendment
to the controversial sprinkler system requirement should have its own hearing,
so all parties for and against can attend and testify on the same day, Tudor

Bloxom reminded
commissioners that the IBC is already being used in the county.

“It’s just on paper we
don’t have it yet…nothing’s going to change if you pass it today,” Bloxom said.

Commissioner Bobby

Cowger made a motion to wait to pass the bill adopting the IBC.       

“Thirty days is not
going to make a big difference either way so why rush it?” Cowger asked.

“I don’t feel any
urgency to do this,” Tudor said. “If you don’t want to adopt, I don’t think it
changes anything…state law is state law.”

Administrative Director
Gerry Mason suggested that the county might need to hold more than one hearing
into possible local amendments to the state building standards.

Commissioner Virgil
Shockley said he’d like to see Groff’s promised list.

“We don’t need to be
raising the cost of housing in the county. They’re already high enough,”
Shockley said.

The commissioners voted
6-1, with Commissioner Louise Gulyas dissenting, to put off adopting the
official state builders code and to wait until all amendments can be discussed.