Council mulls variance to fire sprinkler requirement

May 24, 2013 10:23:53 AM

Nathan Gregory - [email protected]


Renovation of a downtown mixed-use building could soon slow down while the city council decides whether to allow a variance bypassing installation of a sprinkler system. 


Local developer Chris Chain, who is overseeing renovation of the two-story property at 420 Main St., asked the council for relief, citing an unusually high water tap fee due to the lack of a large enough line in close proximity to the building. A water tap allows a building to connect to the municipal water supply. 


The property in question most recently housed The Carousel. The building permit filed for the renovation lists Jim Frerer as the owner of the building. 


Chain said the development would consist of retail on the bottom floor with an apartment on the second floor. 


The city adopted the 2006 International Building Code about five years ago, building official Kenneth Wiegel, said. That code mandates the installation of water sprinkler systems as a fire prevention measure in mixed-use developments. 


The request will be taken back up during the council's June 4 meeting.  


Ward 5 Councilman Kabir Karriem said he felt it was best to discuss the matter with fire chief Kenneth Moore, who was absent from Tuesday's meeting, before making a decision. The council unanimously agreed to table the request.  


Chain said that in previous discussions, Moore recommended adhering to the code. Chain did not specify the unit owner's intentions for the retail portion of the unit. 


The price tag for the tap fee is approximately $26,000 -- double the cost of installing the sprinkler system, Chain said.  


As a substitute for sprinklers, he said he would install an integrated alarm system encompassing both floors. The system would automatically call Columbus Fire and Rescue if activated. If he didn't have to absorb that cost himself, he said, he would install sprinklers. He said he also asked officials from Columbus Light and Water if they had funds to upgrade the size of the water line but they indicated the funds were not presently available. 


"It's just a hardship on this one building that we would have to do this when there's not another building on the south side that has a sprinkler system in it," Chain told councilmen. "When the city and (Columbus Light and Water) get to the point of being able to put the service there, we'd be more than happy to hook up and put a system in. We had already planned on putting a system in. Obviously it's safer, but ... this would be a hardship to pay $26,000 just to get water to the building." 


Wiegel said the code does not require a sprinkler system in businesses with occupancy loads of less than 100. He added that in almost every case, city code requires that buildings with residential occupancy within a building that has another occupancy are required to have sprinklers installed.  


"If they were remodeling the building and the second floor was going to be related to the first floor ... a sprinkler system would not be required ... We would have to run a main from Fourth Street South in front of all the buildings to the Fashion Barn on Fifth Street in order for them to have a large enough main for a sprinkler system," Wiegel said. "If and when they run it ... the intention (would be) to run it down the entire block so in the future, as buildings go through renovations that may or may not require sprinkler systems, the line would be available in the event that it was required. 


"We are working on a possible solution that we feel may be code compliant," he said. 


Chain cited a historical building code that gives city governing bodies more discretion as to whether or not to allow the variance. 


"Everything is going to stop until we figure out what we're going to do," Chain said, adding that workers could not install fire dampers in ventilation units until he was allowed a variance. 


"Most of the buildings, unless they're an assembly or they're a three-story building downtown, do not have a sprinkler system in there," he said. "The code requires it right now, but you have the option to give me a variance on it, or it's up to the discretion of the officer to find the safest way to make this happen." 


Chain said the owner of the space plans to occupy the apartment portion instead of leasing it and said he would rent the retail space.

Nathan Gregory covers city and county government for The Dispatch.