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For Amish family building home in Carroll County, commissioners make sprinkler exception

A Carroll County ordinance requires new homes to be built with sprinkler systems, but the commissioners unanimously voted to make an exception for an Amish family’s home that will be without electricity.

Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, announced the family’s move to his district at the Board of County Commissioners’ June 18 meeting. Then on June 25 the commissioners, sitting as the Board of Building Code Appeals, voted on an appeal by the homeowner, Joseph Lapp, to build his home without installing sprinklers.

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“We do not have any electric, we do not plan to have any electric to the dwelling,” Lapp said over the phone during the meeting. Multiple attempts to reach Lapp by phone via Wantz were unsuccessful.

The Amish people prescribe to a set of religious values that prevent them from using many types of modern technology, such as electricity, though some use phones. Many Amish families live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, though not all.

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Carroll County adopted its residential sprinkler ordinance in 2006, and then the state mandated sprinklers in new homes across Maryland in 2012, according to Jason Green, deputy director of public works for the county.

However, state law includes an exception that local law does not, Green said. New homes that aren’t connected to an electrical utility do not have to be built with sprinkler systems, and local jurisdictions may adopt this exception. Carroll County never adopted the exception, according to Green, but there is still an appeal process available to homeowners on a case-by-case basis at the county level.

Wantz, who has worked as a paid and volunteer firefighter for years, said Thursday he voted in favor of Lapp’s appeal with some reluctance.

“I think it would be in the best interest, and this is difficult, that we go by what the state said,” he said Thursday, referring to the exception for homes without electricity.

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At the June 18 meeting, Wantz said sprinkler systems help save lives of a home’s occupants, as well as firefighters.

Leading up to the decision, Green told the commissioners an air tank or air pump could operate the sprinklers, but could cost an additional $3,000. Green recalled two previous requests for exceptions to the sprinkler ordinance, but they were for financial or other reasons, not due to a lack of electricity.

Lapp said Thursday he spoke to a manufacturer who said an air pump or tank could not operate the sprinkler system. There would also be an issue of how to keep the water in the sprinkler system from freezing in the winter, Lapp said, as they do not plan to heat the entire house. He noted they keep fire extinguishers in the home.

The commissioners briefly discussed whether to add the state’s exception to the county sprinkler ordinance, but chose instead to make a decision on Lapp’s case and possibly revisit amending the ordinance in the future. Such a change to the ordinance would require a public hearing, county attorney Tim Burke noted.

Prior to Thursday’s meeting, Green said county staff reached out to Carroll County Volunteer Emergency Services Association for its opinion. While the home would be without electricity, CCVESA suggested the potential use of candles and oil lamps would still be a concern, Green said.

CCVESA President Bruce Fleming said he had conveyed his concerns to the county even though the organization was not able to the attend the commissioners’ meeting.

“We do stand behind the residential sprinkler program,” Fleming said Wednesday afternoon. “We know sprinklers save lives.”

He said he would like to see every home equipped with sprinklers, as according to the Carroll County ordinance.

Nevertheless, the commissioners granted Lapp a favorable vote of 5-0.

“I appreciate what you’re doing for us,” Lapp told the commissioners.

Wantz offered to visit the home when it’s complete to offer a lesson on fire safety, something Lapp said he would welcome.

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