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Fire supression ordinance triggers early debate

By Staff | Mar 26, 2013

Debate concerning a proposal that would require the installation of fire prevention systems in new single- and multi-family in Cape Coral became heated Monday with officials even wrangling over whether the matter could be discussed at introduction.

The answer was no to presentations from a coterie of experts in the audience, but the Cape Coral City Council did allow regular public input for the three ordinances introduced at the regular meeting, with public hearing dates set for April 8.

It was the ordinances’ co-sponsor, Councilmember Chris Chulakes-Leetz, who tried initiate discussion however Councilmember Marty McClain, objected, saying input was set for April and that any opposition needed to be prepared to present its arguments.

He also objected to taking a bulk of council’s time to hear support when the ordinances’ agenda purpose was to only set a hearing date.

Chulakes-Leetz disagreed.

“There are experts from around the country here. Mr. McClain needs to be patient,” Chulakes-Leetz said. “It would be a disservice to entertain the thought of not letting them speak.”

McClain, who after the meeting showed research materials with numerous questions he had, countered by saying any debate would be one-sided.

“We have experts from one side and not from the other. The protocol is to set the hearing date,” McClain said. “I don’t want to see a filibuster here.”

Mayor John Sullivan, who wondered if the experts would be able to return in two weeks, sided with Chulakes-Leetz.

“This is an important ruling. I want to hear as much information as possible,” Sullivan said.

Councilmember John Carioscia, however, questioned whether the information council received for the ordinance were even accurate.

“I’ve been told these documents are erroneous. We should table this until we’re ready to address this,” Carioscia said.

The other co-sponsor, Councilmember Lenny Nesta, in the end, said protocol trumped his desire to hear from the experts who supported his ordinance.

That protocol calls for setting a hearing date, advertising it as such, and then listening to arguments.

“I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I support the sprinkler ordinance and the protocol we’ve followed,” Nesta said. “We need more time.”

The council voted 5-3 to keep the protocol in place, so instead of the expected 40 minutes Chulakes-Leetz thought the presenters would get, they got the standard three minutes everyone gets in public input.

One of the prospective experts, Buddy Dewar, had much to discuss and said three minutes wouldn’t nearly cover what he had to say. But other supporters, such as Jim Shannon, said the ordinances’ time had come.

“I just had one installed. It give me peace of mind, especially in my condition,” said Shannon, who uses a wheelchair. “What is the price of a human life? This can save everybody money.”

On the other side, former state representative Gary Aubuchon, who is a builder, said it would grind the local economic recovery to a halt and also would benefit a narrow demographic.

“It’s not about life safety. It’s a government mandate to benefit one industry. Consider mandating security systems or making your own choice on whether you needed one,” Aubuchon said.

Chulakes-Leetz said he was able to get the expert presenters to return April 8 to begin the formal debate.

Afterward, he said the ordinance would eliminate the impact fees, since the system would become law, unlike what the local building interests claim.

“The average cost is $1.61 per square foot and can get down to under $1 with volume,”Chulakes-Leetz said. “That’s in cities that passed this ordinance 20 years ago and is now the standard.”

Chulakes-Leetz also denied claims the ordinances would increase sewer impact fees, second water line fees, and water costs. He discounted Aubuchon’s assumption concerning the economy.

McClain, meanwhile said he has yet to see any information from supporters that validate their case, particularly concerning the numbers.

“I had endless questions and they should have presented the documentation that supported their side,” McClain said. “The savings can’t be validated. The residents say there’s added value, but real estate agents are verifying if there’s a value and it’s self-perceived.”