New fire codes a hot topic

Published 7:33 pm Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The issue of county commercial building fire codes was a hot topic at Monday’s monthly Lafayette County Board of Supervisors meeting.

Joey Holcomb with Oxford Farm & Ranch Supply, located on Highway 30, came before the board requesting an appeal in regard to new regulations which went into effect May 1 that require a sprinkler system be installed, not only in a 10,000-square-foot expansion the business wants to construct, but also add a sprinkler system in its current 12,000-squarefoot facility.

According to the new code, any commercial building larger than 12,000 square feet is required to have a sprinkler system.

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Not only would it be costly for the business, but the sprinkler system that would be required is not compatible with the current water line provided by the water association, which has a one-inch line running to the business. That one-inch line would have to be replaced with a four-inch line.

Holcomb indicated the expansion would be an 8,000foot show room and retail area and the remaining 2,000 feet would be feed supply storage. He said he found out about the new code regulations when he began the permit process for the building.

“From a budget standpoint, we did not have that figured in,” said Holcomb. “That will totally kill the project. “

Holcomb presented a letter from Campground Water Association stating there is currently a four-inch water line running to the one-inch line that feeds into the building. Holcomb said a sprinkler company he contacted for an estimate indicated the system would require a minimum sixinch water line.

The line that runs under Highway 30 currently to supply water to the building is a one-inch line, according to Holcomb.

“The four-inch line basically kills the sprinkler system,” said Holcomb. “If we had sprinklers in place, we couldn’t even hook them up.”

Supervisor Mike Pickens brought up that when these new code ordinances were adopted, the supervisors indicated there may be some exceptions such as a rural water company not being able to provide adequate water to maintain the sprinkler system.

“You can’t hold somebody responsible for something they can’t supply,” Pickens said.

“I would like for this board to go back and revisit the prior code and policy on commercial status in regard to our fire codes,” added Pickens. “That’s a topic for another day, but for you in your situation, I would like to propose a variance for you to allow you to get on with your building project. Us being new in this code enforcement has kinda got you caught behind the eight ball.”

County building code inspector Joel Hollowell said at this point, the business could build firewalls to avoid the need for a sprinkler system.

Holcomb said the project began in January with dirt work, well before the new codes were adopted in May.

“I actually signed the contract on my building May 1,” Holcomb said. “I knew nothing about the code until Joel came and did the permit deal.”

Holcomb said the planning commission granted site approval May 26 on the project.

County Attorney David O’Donell said the supervisors may also consider the precedent this could set in granting a variance.

“I understand that, but my issue is the water association can’t supply the water,” Pickens said.

Planning Commission President T.J. Ray was also in attendance and addressed the board, stating he didn’t have an issue with Pickens’ motion, but “this is one of two or three that have already surfaced where someone has decided after May 1 to x, y or z,” said Ray. “The codes went in May 1 and at that point, it seems to me, the liability is on the applicant.”

Ray said there is an answer to the issue of insufficient water to supply the sprinkler system.

“Joel just gave it to you. There is an alternate way to construct this with a firewall so you don’t have to have a sprinkler system,” said Ray. “So what we’re saying on one hand is we think it’s important that you meet the fire standards, but it will save you some money in your pocketbook if you don’t have to.”

“Wait a minute,” Pickens said. “We were on the committee to adopt these codes and I just got through saying that this board needs to go back and revisit this issue because I do not feel like it’s feasible to place someone in this position.”

“It’s a fine line,” said board president Jeff Busby. “You’ve got cost and you’ve got safety for customers.”

“My thing is it’s a time frame,” said supervisor Mike Roberts. “I know we adopted May 1 and he was already in the process of his building. I’m sure he had his building on the way before three weeks later he got caught up in this.”

“I’m not standing here to object, but I simply want it put on the record that we do have deadlines and we do have rules and it seems to me and the first question to ask is did you know about the rules before you did it? And if you didn’t know, why didn’t your engineer tell you,” Ray said.

Roberts said rules have flaws.

“We’re in a time stage in this set of building codes in the journey we’re going on, these situations are going to keep arising,” Roberts said. “I’m not saying anything to help someone save some money. Did anybody who designed these codes intentionally financially hurt anybody or help anybody? I don’t think so.”

The supervisors granted the variance not requiring the sprinkler system be installed.