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Builder wants modification of tough
fire code

By Daniel Silliman

dsilliman@news-daily.com

A southside builder and developer handed a memo to the county's commission chairman suggesting modification to a resolution designed to strengthen the county's fire code, before it is adopted.

"I generally agree with the intent of what they're trying to accomplish," said Hugh Morton, president of Peachtree Homes. "I just think that the wording is all wrong."

The proposed ordinance, drafted by Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas, would require sprinklers in older, multi-family dwellings, which were previously exempt from the county code, and require sprinklers in some single-family dwellings. Cohilas, citing the fatal fire at the Budget Inn in Riverdale last June, said the ordinance would close loopholes in the current county code and potentially save lives.

Morton has an issue with the second part of the proposed change, saying that the ordinance's requirements on single-family dwellings would have devastating implications.

The ordinance would apply multi-family dwelling rules to those single-family homes which are built close together. Under Cohilas' plan, single-family homes built less than 10 feet from a property line, or less than 20 feet from the next home, would be required to have automatic sprinklers in the attic, just like townhomes and hotels.

Builder Morton objects, saying the ordinance would "kick the cost of houses up $5,000, $6,000, and we've got the worst housing market in history."

Morton said the national economy, with a subprime lending crisis and fears of an impending recession, combined with the real possibility Clayton County Public Schools will lose accreditation, has made it near impossible to sell homes in the county. An added expense, generated by the revised fire code, would make Clayton County's housing market even less competitive against the surround counties with their more lax codes, according to the builder.

Morton said the single-family sprinkler rule would apply to 70 percent of the homes in the county, would cost the fire department a lot of money and manpower during annual inspections, and would be a burden to homeowners.

"Sprinkler systems are unsightly, they're expensive and you have a real potential for freeze-damage," he said.

Morton said he doesn't want to seem opposed to the change, but just wants part of it modified. He recommends that the county institute a distance rule, requiring that homes be spaced farther apart.

Cohilas, presenting the proposed ordinance to the Clayton County Board of Commissioners, said the main thrust was to require sprinklers in the county's older motels and hotels, but added that the single-family sprinkler requirement would "close a loop hole."

Cohilas has said he has constantly pushed for tougher fire codes and held the line against developers. The ordinance will be read by the commissioners a second time at the regularly scheduled business meeting on March 3, and could pass by the end of that month.