Rome to loosen sprin­kler rules

♦ The change to the state fire safety code is ex­pected to spur new growth.

Rome News-Tribune - - FRONT PAGE - By Diane Wag­ner DWag­

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

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