Wicomico Joins Worcester In Sprinkler Opposition

SALISBURY – Officials in Wicomico County last week agreed to support proposed legislation that would allow jurisdictions to opt out of statewide sprinkler requirements in new single-family homes.

Last week, the Wicomico County Council unanimously agreed to send a letter of support to state representatives regarding local amendments to fire sprinkler system provisions.

In May, the Worcester County Commissioners opted to seek help from other Maryland counties in their fight against state requirements that all new single-family dwellings have sprinklers.

The decision followed an effort to create a building permit that would allow county residents to opt out of the state’s sprinkler requirement. Feedback from state agencies, however, led the commissioners to consider another option.

To that end, the commissioners sent a letter and supporting documents to members of the Eastern Shore delegation requesting their introduction and support of state legislation that would remove the mandatory requirement of automatic fire sprinkler systems in all new single-family dwellings. They also sent letters to Maryland counties seeking support of the legislation once it is introduced.

Joan Strang, vice president of government affairs at the Maryland Building Industry Association, encouraged the council last week to support the effort to remove single-family dwellings from the state mandate on sprinkler systems.

“As you know, they are extremely high cost for new development and especially first-time homebuyers,” she said. “This is a push by the Worcester County Commissioners … They are trying to introduce legislation in the next legislative session and would like to have the support of all the rural counties.”

Councilman Joe Holloway questioned if the Maryland Rural County Coalition had been contacted about this effort. Strang said the organization had been notified of Worcester County’s efforts.

“They have sent a letter to all the rural counties, state-level representatives and the governor,” she said.

Council President John Cannon and others on the council said they supported efforts to introduce legislation. But Councilman Josh Hastings questioned if the council had received input from local firefighters.

“I haven’t seen their latest opinion on this,” he said.

With no further discussion, however, the council voted unanimously to send a letter of support.

“In accordance with the principle that the best land use decisions are made locally, thus reinforcing local autonomy, it is our belief that the regulations of such systems should be a local initiative and allowing whether to install a sprinkler system to be a decision of the prospective homebuyer,” the letter reads. “As suggested by Worcester County, in its letter dated May 19, 2019, the Public Safety Article of the Annotated Code of Maryland … allows a local jurisdiction to adopt local amendments to the Building Performance Standards if the local standards do not ‘weaken the automatic fire sprinkler systems provision for townhouses and one- and two-family dwellings contained in the Standards.’

“By eliminated ‘and one’ from that subsection, local counties will be able to adopt waiver programs like the one proposed by Worcester County that allow homebuyers to decide for themselves whether or not they prefer to install an automatic fire sprinkler system in their new home.”

About The Author: Bethany Hooper

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Bethany Hooper has been with The Dispatch since 2016. She currently covers various general stories. Hooper graduated from Stephen Decatur High School in 2012 and the University of Maryland in 2016, where she completed double majors in journalism and economics.