Coun­cil com­mit­tee slows ad­vance of manda­tory high-rise sprin­kler bill

Honolulu Star-Advertiser - - LOCAL - By Gor­don Y.K. Pang gor­don­pang@starad­ver­tiser.com

A Honolulu City Coun­cil com­mit­tee de­cided Tues­day to de­fer a mea­sure that would re­quire the own­ers of ap­prox­i­mately 150 Oahu res­i­den­tial high-rises to in­stall au­to­matic fire sprin­klers through­out their build­ings.

Bill 69’s de­fer­ral in the Ex­ec­u­tive Mat­ters and Le­gal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee came de­spite an ap­pear­ance by Mayor Kirk Cald­well, who urged com­mit­tee mem­bers to ad­vance the mea­sure. Coun­cil Chair­man Ron Menor, who also heads the com­mit­tee, also wanted the bill to ad­vance to the sec­ond of three read­ings be­fore the full Coun­cil next month.

But Menor’s col­leagues, af­ter hear­ing con­cerns about the bill from about a dozen con­do­minium own­ers, said they want time for peo­ple to re­view the pro­ceed­ings be­cause the lat­est draft came out only a week ago.

The draft in­cor­po­rates rec­om­men­da­tions by the Honolulu Fire De­part­ment’s Fire Safety Ad­vi­sory Com­mit­tee, which be­gan meet­ing in the wake of July’s mas­sive fire at the Marco Polo con­do­minium com­plex, which led to four res­i­dents’ deaths. The draft calls for each of an es­ti­mated 360 res­i­den­tial high-rises that don’t have sprin­klers to have a fire and life safety eval­u­a­tion con­ducted by a de­sign pro­fes­sional within three years of the bill’s pas­sage. The list of those without sprin­klers con­sists pri­mar­ily of build­ings built be­fore 1975, when the city first man­dated that all new res­i­den­tial tow­ers be out­fit­ted with sprin­klers in pub­lic ar­eas and within all in­di­vid­ual units. Prop­erty own­ers of high­rises that do not pass an eval­u­a­tion would be re­quired to cor­rect any de­fi­cien­cies within six years, As­sis­tant Fire Chief Socrates Bratakos said.

The draft re­quires build­ings with 10 or more sto­ries to be retro­fit­ted with sprin­klers, both in com­mon ar­eas and in­side units, within 12 years of the bill’s pas­sage. Cald­well said the 12-year dead­line is more than al­lowed in the orig­i­nal bill. “This helps peo­ple get­ting up to speed,” he said. Roughly 150 of the

360 high-rises without sprin­klers would be re­quired to in­stall sys­tems. The build­ings out­side of the re­quire­ment are deemed less vul­ner­a­ble be­cause they are con­sid­ered more ac­ces­si­ble by fire­fight­ers and their equip­ment than taller build­ings. Build­ings that have nonen­closed hall­ways and easy ac­cess to stair­wells are also ex­empted.

Robert Reed, a res­i­dent at the Re­gency at Ka­hala con­do­minium, said, “I’m feel­ing pretty safe with what we’ve done al­ready in our build­ing and what I’ve done in my own home” dur­ing the 41 years he’s lived there. “I don’t think I need fire sprin­klers, but that’s not the point here,” Reed said. “I’m re­tired, my wife’s re­tired, we live on fixed in­comes. … Bill 69 would cre­ate an ex­treme … fi­nan­cial hard­ship for me and my fam­ily if passed.” The Fire De­part­ment es­ti­mated it would cost the owner of each unit in his build­ing about $14,000 to retro­fit the en­tire build­ing with sprin­klers, but Reed said he be­lieves be­tween $30,000 and $40,000 is more likely. “I’ve spent many sleep­less nights try­ing to fig­ure out how I’m go­ing to pay for this.”

James Mor­row, an owner in the Paci­f­i­cana At­las res­i­den­tial tower, said a sprin­kler re­quire­ment would be es­pe­cially oner­ous to those in smaller build­ings, which have fewer own­ers to share the bur­den.

Coun­cil mem­bers Carol Fuku­naga and Ikaika An­der­son led the move to de­fer the bill. An­der­son said he isn’t con­vinced that mov­ing the bill for­ward is nec­es­sary, not­ing that sev­eral of the home­own­ers who tes­ti­fied said that they un­der­stand and ac­cept the risk of not in­stalling sprin­klers. Menor pointed out that the Coun­cil is con­sid­er­ing four other mea­sures aimed at pro­vid­ing state and city tax breaks for con­do­minium own­ers re­quired to in­stall sprin­klers. He called those mea­sures “a work in progress.”

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