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Anne Arundel

Harford council delays implementation of home fire sprinkler law

The Harford County Council voted Tuesday to delay implementation of the controversial fire sprinkler requirement for new single family and duplex homes until next July 1, hoping to buy time to reach out to the public and offer more information on sprinklers.

The law, which was originally passed on Jan. 4 as part of a state-mandated 2012 international building code, had been set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2012.

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The sprinkler requirement has received support from local fire companies, but it also drew opposition during a hearing last month from several building industry representatives, who said requiring sprinklers could seriously drive up building costs at a time when home building remains at a standstill.

The council passed the delaying measure as emergency legislation, meaning it halts the Jan. 1 implementation as soon as County Executive David Craig signs the legislation.

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"A year ago, when the county executive asked for our permission to make sprinklers a requirement, he asked us to put it off," Council President Billy Boniface said, explaining he "saw this train wreck coming" several months ago.

"I thought it was a good opportunity during a public hearing, when we look back, to prepare for that," Boniface said. "What this accomplishes is a little breathing room."

He also said that "this building code is much more than sprinklers."

Boniface said the code will make "pretty significant" changes that, as a state mandate, the county has no control over.

"I think it's important that we do some outreach through the website, through [communications], and let people know what options are available to them, not only for installing the sprinklers but also for the new energy-efficient requirements," he said.

Boniface noted the building code is now online, whereas people used to have to pay for copies in the past.

He said he is also working with home builders' association and other interested groups.

Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti was the only one to vote against the legislation because, she said, she did not want to compromise on it.

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She said she appreciated the importance of her colleagues supporting sprinkler systems but would not support the bill because of the amendments delaying implementation.

Councilman Chad Shrodes said he hopes sprinklers can work with private well systems, a concern he has raised frequently.

"There's a lot of costs that are going to be passed on to anyone building a home," he said of sprinklers. "It's getting very costly to build a home, and I would be surprised if permits are put off for a long time."

Harford's building code already requires sprinklers in new townhomes and multifamily dwellings. The municipalities of Aberdeen, Havre de Grace and Bel Air, each which has its own building code, require sprinklers in all new residential construction. Bel Air extended its code to cover single family dwellings last winter.


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