Commission tentatively OKs less-stringent sprinkler rules

Douglas County Commissioners tentatively approved changes Thursday to requirements for automatic fire-sprinkler systems in the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District.

The most recent ordinance language exempts new structures smaller than 3,600 square feet from having to install automatic fire-sprinkler systems if the buildings meet fire-flow requirements.

The ordinance does, however, require sprinklers in existing homes if an addition would increase the size of a home to more than 3,600 square feet.

The size requirement does not include so-called "accessory uses" such as garages, decks and covered walkways.

In February, a change to the ordinance was proposed requiring all new homes, regardless of size, to be fitted with automatic sprinkler systems.

Many real-estate agents opposed the change, saying the requirements would unnecessarily increase the prices of homes in the Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District beyond surrounding areas.

In the approximately two months since commissioners discussed changes to the fire-sprinkler ordinance, real-estate agents, contractors, building officials, and firefighters formed a group to work on resolving their differences.

Bill Driscoll, with the Sierra Nevada Association of Realtors and a member of the working group, called the new language of the ordinance "acceptable" at Thursday's meeting.

Tahoe Douglas Fire officials have been the most ardent backers of increasing the percentage of homes with automatic sprinkler systems, saying the systems will help fight fires and save lives.

"Sprinklers are firefighters 24/7," said Tahoe-Douglas Fire Protection District Assistant Chief Rick Nicholson, who compared the debate over the value of sprinkler systems with that of smoke detectors in the 1960s.

Several residents remained vehemently opposed to the ordinance Thursday, saying the fire-sprinkler requirement would make even small additions to some homes exorbitantly expensive.

"We don't need to go to all these elaborate extremes," said resident Tom Dirkes, while recommending the board go back to the code passed in 1995.

That code exempted new homes or rebuilds less than 5,000 feet - including accessory uses - from sprinkler requirements, according to a memo from Douglas County Deputy District Attorney Robert Morris.

The existing code, approved last July, requires installation of sprinkler systems in all new homes or when remodeling or rebuilding an existing project, the memo indicated.

The 1995 code, the 2007 code and the working group's proposed code were among the options considered by commissioners during the February meeting.

County commissioners approved the working group's recommendations 3-1 Thursday, with Commissioner Nancy McDermid being the lone no vote.

"I would go back to the language before that was 5,000 feet of living space," McDermid said.

Commissioner Kelly Kite, who directed staff to bring forward various alternatives to the board, was not at Thursday's meeting.

Before the ordinance can be enacted, it will require further discussion and a second vote at a subsequent meeting.


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