Proposed fire-sprinkler ordinance still is sparking debate in Douglas County |

Proposed fire-sprinkler ordinance still is sparking debate in Douglas County

Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune Ron Alling, a homeowner in Lakeridge, called the proposed fire-sprinkler ordinance "absolutely ridiculous" during the Douglas County Commission meeting Thursday.

The latest version of a fire-sprinkler ordinance proposed for the Lake Tahoe portion of Douglas County received mixed reactions Thursday, and county commissioners asked for several variations to be brought back for discussion next month.

Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District officials contend an ordinance requiring fire sprinklers is necessary for public safety, but the ordinances proposed so far have drawn fire from real-estate agents and homeowners.

The sprinklers can keep a fire from burning out of control while firefighters are en route, said Rick Nicholson, Tahoe Douglas’ assistant fire chief.

In the month since the board last heard a proposed fire-sprinkler ordinance, a group of real-estate agents, contractors, building officials and firefighters met to modify it.

Under the ordinance proposed to Douglas County commissioners Thursday, a home would need to be fitted with an automated sprinkler system if a project would increase a home’s floor area to more than 3,600 square feet.

Also under the most recently proposed ordinance, buildings already more than 3,600 square feet would be required to put in sprinkler systems if any square footage is added to the building.

All new buildings, regardless of size, also would be required to include an automatic sprinkler system.

Language regarding porches, covered walkways, decks and garages that was included in the previous version of the ordinance also was removed from the one currently proposed.

“We’re just talking strictly about the habitable space of the house,” said Rick Nicholson, assistant chief for the Tahoe Douglas Fire Protection District.

Although the ordinance proposed Thursday received more support than previous versions, concerns over the 3,600-square-foot threshold remained.

Lakeridge resident Don Alling estimated a planned bathroom remodel increasing his home’s floor space by 110 feet would cost him $75,000 to $125,000 because he would be required to install an automatic sprinkler system throughout his entire home.

To impose such a requirement for minor modifications was “absolutely ridiculous,” Alling said.

“You’re going to drive people underground for doing their houses,” he said.

The sprinkler ordinance would dramatically increase the cost of homes relative to surrounding areas, and new homes falling under the 3,600-square-foot threshold should not be included under a fire-sprinkler ordinance, according to several real-estate agents who spoke at Thursday’s meeting.

“If it is going to be 3,600 square feet, it needs to be across the board,” said real-estate agent Pam Lusby.

Commissioner James Baushke agreed, but Nicholson contended the threat fire poses to people in the Lake Tahoe Basin doesn’t depend on the size of their home.

“We need to protect people in every size home, not just large homes,” Nicholson said.

Reaction to the newest sprinkler ordinance proposal among the rest of the commissioners at the meeting was mixed.

Commissioner Doug Johnson called the 3,600-square-foot requirement a “good compromise” but added there needs to be an appeals process for homeowners who would be required to install fire sprinklers when doing minor improvements.

Nancy McDermid expected appeals to the ordinance would be common and questioned whether an ordinance attracting so many appeals is worth passing. She recommended increasing the threshold for requiring sprinklers to 5,000 square feet.

Commission Chairman Kelly Kite, who said he was leaning toward voting for the ordinance as proposed Thursday, directed staff to bring multiple versions of the ordinance back to the board for discussion next month.

Details of what will be presented to Douglas County commissioners next month were not available Thursday.

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