Proposed sprinkler law stymied in Westminster


A fatal fire in 1991 prompted the Westminster City Council to ask its public safety committee to draft an ordinance requiring sprinklers in new residences. Last night, the council refused even to consider the committee's draft.

A three-member majority blocked Councilwoman Rebecca A. Orenstein's effort to introduce the ordinance, the first step before a public hearing could be scheduled.

"Give it to public debate rather than cutting it off," Ms. Orenstein unsuccessfully urged her colleagues.

Newly elected Council President Kenneth A. Yowan shared her disappointment.

Mr. Yowan, who chaired the public safety committee until his election as council president last night, spent the past 15 months working with firefighters, county government and building industry representatives on the sprinkler requirement.

"The thing that disappoints me the most tonight is that the public safety committee didn't go out on a lark and study this ordinance," Mr. Yowan said. "I'm more disappointed that it didn't get introduced than if it failed after a public hearing."

The ordinance would have required sprinklers in new duplexes built after July 1, 1994, and single-family houses built after July 1, 1995.

It also would have required owners who converted houses to apartments after July 1, 1995, to install sprinklers.

Sprinklers would add an estimated $2,500 to the cost of a house, a factor that Councilman Stephen R. Chapin Sr. cited in opposition.

In reply to Ms. Orenstein's question about whether the sticking point was personal property rights or cost, he said, "I think we're dealing with both."

Newly seated Councilman Damian L. Halstad also cited the increase in housing unit cost in explaining his opposition.

Councilman Edward S. Calwell said he did not believe city law should be stricter than state sprinkler requirements.

Westminster Fire Company member Robert Cumberland, who served on the committee that drafted the ordinance, said, "We're not doing this [pressing for sprinkler requirements] to put a burden on the council. We're doing it to protect the citizens of our great city."

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