Rome to loosen sprinkler rules
♦ The change to the state fire safety code is expected to spur new growth.
The Rome City Commission is expected to approve this month a change to the city’s fire code aimed at encouraging new construction.
Plans are to drop the sprinkler requirement for commercial buildings that are 5,000 square feet or larger in favor of the 12,000-square-foot threshold used by the county and state.
“There are exceptions in the regulation,” Assistant County Manager Patrick Eidson said. “If there’s housing, if alcohol is served and it seats more than 100 people, if there are certain other conditions, it will be sprinkled.”
The Business Development Committee examined the issue after a convenience store owner questioned the difference between city and county regulations when the structures are protected by the same fire department. Commissioner Bill Irmscher said a recent redevelopment of a two-story building cost $90,000 to retrofit it with sprinklers.
“They’d still have to do it under this regulation because the business serves kids, but you see it’s an expensive proposition,” he said.
Commissioner Wendy Davis questioned how Rome-Floyd County Fire Department officials felt about the change in the more densely populated city. Mayor Jamie Doss said most of the downtown district would have to be sprinkled because there are residences on the second floors.
“The fire department understands why we’re doing this,” Doss said.
Commissioner Craig McDaniel, who works in real estate, said some investors have canceled redevelopment projects because of the cost of a sprinkler system.
Commissioners accepted the change on a first reading Monday, with adoption scheduled for their Oct. 22 meeting.
The board also approved the purchase of 10 Ford Focus police cars at $235,000 for the city police department’s take-home program. Chief Denise Downer-McKinney has said the benefit attracts and retains certified officers while deterring crime in the neighborhoods where they’re parked.
The 2017 special purpose, local option sales tax package contains a $925,000 earmark for the program. Collections won’t start until April but the Commission has passed a resolution allowing it to use general funds that will be reimbursed later with SPLOST revenue.
Also on Monday, the board signed off on the Northwest Georgia Housing Authority’s plans to issue bonds to rehabilitate High Rise One on Avenue B and Park Homes on Reservoir Street.
“It’s a gut and rehab,” NWGHA attorney Stewart Duggan told the board.
The city has no responsibility to cover the bonds, but federal tax law requires approval by the highest governing authority in the jurisdiction. The U.S. Housing and Urban Development-backed initiative involves con- verting public housing to the Section 8 voucher program, which allows private investment.
“It’s a different program but there will be the same number of units available and residents will pay the same amount they always have,” Duggan said. That’s typically 30 percent of their income, with HUD covering the rest.
The planned $13.5 million makeover of the High Rise includes a complete renovation of the 100 units, with modifications to provide some personal care home services for the elderly residents. The housing authority, which is partnering with Rea Ventures Group on both projects, will issue up to $7.4 million in bonds.
Duggan said the 100 units at Park Homes also would be completely rehabilitated at a cost of about $11.5 million. The housing authority will issue up to $7 million in bonds.
The short-term bonds are expected to be sold in mid-November with a payback period of 24 months.
Bill Irmscher, commissioner