Devastating Schmoke Sprinkler Bill


In December of 1988, the Schmoke administration requested a City Council bill that would have devastating economic consequences for Baltimore City. Apparently a first for the nation, the measure would require most buildings in the city that are over 45 feet high to be retrofitted with sprinkler systems, allowing for no exceptions or exemptions.

The estimated cost of this retrofitting for the municipal government alone: $56 million. Alterations to the properties of the Catholic Church would cost $39 million. Untold additional millions would have to be spent by other commercial and institutional property owners.

For more than two years, this hot potato has been mired in a council committee. It has been the subject of a number of hearings and more are scheduled. If the bill passes, residences would have to be equipped with sprinklers by Dec. 31, 1991, institutions by December 1993, industrial plants by Dec. 31, 1993, other business by December 1997 and all other buildings by Dec. 31, 1999.

The likely result would be a scramble by businesses to relocate in surrounding jurisdictions which are more reasonable in their building codes. Individual taxpayers would likely join that exodus because the required retrofitting would wreck the budgets of rental complexes and condominiums.

Is this what Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke wants? Is this what Council President Mary Pat Clarke and council members Sheila Dixon, Lawrence A. Bell, Vera Hall and Agnes Welch -- who introduced the bill for the mayor -- want?

We have no idea how serious Mr. Schmoke was when he had this bill introduced as a payback for union support of his first election four years ago. Nevertheless, the measure now has taken a life of its own and faces yet another hearing Feb. 28 before the Judiciary Committee.

Enough is enough.

After the bill's proponents have their say at the next hearing, we urge the panel, headed by Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector to return the poorly-drafted, destructive bill back to the mayor.

If Mr. Schmoke really believes in this proposal, he can then make it an issue in his re-election campaign.

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