Worcester Spikes 45-Foot Height Ceiling For Homes

SNOW HILL — Despite one member’s concerns, the Worcester County Commission voted Tuesday to abolish the 45-foot maximum height limitation for habitual structures in the county.

According to officials, the 45-foot ceiling, which was established decades ago, has become obsolete.

“We felt this was a section [of the code] that had served it’s time,” said Development Review and Permitting Director Ed Tudor.

The main purpose of the cutoff, Tudor explained, was in deference to the limitations of county fire companies half a century ago. Until somewhat recently, very few departments had tower trucks capable of reaching beyond 45 feet. Today, however, companies without tower trucks are the exception, not the rule.

With all of the larger departments in Worcester equipped with the trucks, the commission agreed that it was finally time to update the provision in the code.

Commissioner Virgil Shockley, however, still had reservations.

He pointed out that while most companies do possess tower trucks, a few of the smaller, more rural departments do not. Shockley requested that steps be taken to guarantee that if a habitable structure standing more than 45 feet tall is built in a smaller company’s jurisdiction, that provisions are in place to have a tower truck from a different department immediately respond in the event of a high-rise fire.

“I guess what I’m looking for is an assurance,” Shockley told the commission. “I just want somebody there in case that fire breaks out on the fifth floor.”

The rest of the commission, while acknowledging Shockley’s concern, didn’t consider the scenario to be a likely one.

“I think the chances are so, so remote,” said Tudor.

Tudor pointed out that most of the areas covered by small companies were not zoned for large, habitable buildings any way. He said the few spots that had the right zoning were so remote it would be unusual for anyone to want to construct a five-story or larger building at the site.

But zoning can always be reassessed and rewritten, said Shockley, when the county comprehensive plan comes up for editing again in a few years. Even if it is unlikely that such a structure will ever be built, Shockley pointed out that it isn’t impossible and that the commission should deal in certainties.

“You should never assume anything,” he said.

Commissioner Louise Gulyas told Shockley that she was confident that if a situation arose, the Fire Marshal and individual departments would make sure all buildings have the proper coverage without the commission inserting itself.

“They’re going to make whatever provisions they need to,” she said.

Commission President Bud Church said that there’s “nothing faster than a radio call” if an issue arises and departments need to cooperate.

“They don’t wait for a radio call,” answered Shockley.

Shockley expressed a wish to add a provision where, if a structure exceeding 45 feet in height is built in a jurisdiction lacking a tower truck, changes to the system are made so that a nearby department with suitable equipment is automatically notified in the event of that building catching on fire.

“There has to be a way we can verify that one of those tower trucks winds up there,” he said.

The rest of the commission, however, felt that the text amendment was satisfactory as written and voted 6-1, with Shockley opposed, to pass it.