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Council rejects fire sprinkler ordinances

By Staff | Apr 9, 2013

After nearly three hours of debate Monday, Cape Coral City Council rejected a trio of ordinances that would have mandated fire sprinklers in new single family homes and duplexes.

The vote was 7-1 with the ordinances’ sponsor, Chris Chulakes-Leetz, casting the lone supporting vote.

Chulakes-Leetz, who unsuccessfully tried to postpone the vote until August, said at the beginning that he never meant for the issue to become so confrontational, and that the policy would be a good one for Cape, since it’s already a winner elsewhere.

There was ample argument on both sides but the board majority sided with opponents, who cited cost and that it took away choice from potential homebuyers who could buy a system if they wished to – or build somewhere else if they did not.

Proponents cited safety.

Estero Fire Marshall Phillip Greene, who has championed the sprinkler ordinance in the Cape, said the risk of death is reduced 80 percent, with property damage down 75 percent in homes with fire suppression systems.

He also debunked what he called myths about sprinklers, such as going off at the first sign of smoke, that it aids a specific trade, and that installation would delay construction.

Another speaker, Buddy Dwyer, said the real problem is lightweight materials used to build homes, which cause homes to catch fire quicker and burn hotter.

But many who spoke during public input had other concerns.

Katie Green, president and CEO of Lee and Hendry County Habitat for Humanity, said the ordinance would add $4,000 to the cost of all homes.

“We need to serve as many families as we can and if they cost more, we’ll have to shift to other areas,” Green said.

For others, it was the “unfunded mandate” aspect that bothered them.

“The people who oppose this aren’t here yet. They’re the people who haven’t moved into town,” said Cape Coral Construction Industry Association President Anthony Greco.

Put it all together and the builders said it would drive people away from Cape Coral and cripple the city’s comeback.

“This ordinance would have a far reach toward the little guy. How will they become homeowners if they have more costs?” said Maryann Briggs. “They have options, they can go elsewhere.”

While nobody on council disagreed that sprinkler systems can save lives and reduced property damage, it again came down to public choice and one more governmental intrusion.

“You have a higher probability of getting robbed than getting your home set on fire. Where does it end?” said Councilmember Kevin McGrail, who made the motion to deny the ordinance. “Who’s winning this? The insurance companies who will offer peanuts to people who don’t have one maintained or proof of maintenance.”

Mayor John Sullivan was disturbed that he heard three different sets of numbers.

“We need to study this and get one set of real numbers. I hate to get caught when we don’t have all the facts,” Sullivan said.

“We’re happy about it. It was the right thing to do to give choice back to the people that are building homes here,” Greco said. “The ordinance could have raised the cost of homes and pushed people to other areas.”