Council committee slows advance of mandatory high-rise sprinkler bill
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.”