Resort May Follow County’s Lead On Sprinkler Mandate

OCEAN CITY — A renewed discussion this week about the cost of building a new home in Ocean City and the state’s sprinkler law did not fall on deaf ears with resort officials considering an opt-out from the mandate.

In February, local resident Greg Demarco told city officials he has a lot in the north end on which he is planning to build a new home, but the rising cost of permits and fees, along with a statewide mandate for expensive sprinkler systems in new single-family homes has him looking elsewhere.

On Monday, DeMarco again renewed the discussion during the public comment period with a greater focus on the statewide sprinkler mandate that includes Ocean City. He explained a sprinkler system for a single-story home comes in at around $7,000, while that figure naturally doubles to $14,000 for a typical two-story home. Add in the cost of various valves and other fixtures and the cost to build her can grow to $20,000, he explained.

“This policy has had a devastating result here and has pushed many potential residents into neighboring Delaware,” he said. “It could end up adding $20,000 to the cost of building a home here.”

Demarco said he understood somewhat the need for sprinkler systems in rural areas not served by public water and without fire and emergency services in close proximity, but said Ocean City could be a good candidate for an opt-out. He related a story about his neighbor to illustrate his point.

“He told me he would rather live in Delaware and pay lower taxes and fees, but his very life depended on living in Ocean City,” he said. “He has a serious health condition and Ocean City EMTs can answer a call in three to five minutes. If he lived in Delaware, it could take 20 to 30 minutes to answer that same call. Wouldn’t it be responsible to kill the sprinkler law in Ocean City where we have five firehouses in a 10-mile stretch? … I’m asking the Mayor and Council to follow Worcester County’s lead and find a way to opt out of the sprinkler law, perhaps more than any other community in the state.”

Demarco was referring to Worcester County’s push for a waiver from the statewide sprinkler system mandate for new construction.

In February, the Worcester County Commissioners voted unanimously to send the Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation a letter outlining the county’s plan to offer property owners a residential fire sprinkler waiver. The commissioners believe the state’s fire sprinkler requirement is government overreach.

“While we understand that there is an argument that such systems may save lives and/or reduce fire damage, it is our collective feeling that the decision whether or not to install such systems should be left to the homeowner and not mandated by state law,” the letter reads.

Back in Ocean City, on Monday some on the Mayor and Council were at least responsive to DeMarco’s request.

“Thanks for coming out and keeping that fire lit, so to speak,” said Councilman John Gehrig. “That was very well said. Your neighbor is right about our response times. I support what the county commissioners are trying to do.”

Council Secretary Mary Knight concurred with DeMarco’s comments and concerns about the cost of building a new home, the opt-out from the sprinkler mandate specifically and questioned if the town should follow the county’s lead on the issue.

“I totally agree and these are very important comments,” he said. “I’d like to know what the next steps would be for us. How do we start a discussion on how we can address this for ourselves?”

About The Author: Shawn Soper

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Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.