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Holmes Beach continues fire safety investigation

By Kathy Prucnell, Islander Reporter

Commissioner Marvin Grossman visits 145 50th St. to demonstrate his claim of fire safety issues at duplexes where only a narrow space separates the units. Islander Photo: Kathy Prucnell

    Holmes Beach commissioners said they want to see sprinklers required in three-story duplexes on hearing building official Tom O’Brien’s report.

    Commission Chair Jean Peelen introduced the topic at the Feb. 21 meeting, asking for an update from O’Brien.

    “We know the fire department didn’t inspect them,” she said of the closely spaced homes.

    But fire inspections are not required for residential properties in Holmes Beach.

    “We know we did not inspect them for the fire-rated walls. What we didn’t know is whether in the plans they said what kind of wall they were putting in,” she said.

    Peelen also asked what the city could do to protect itself and to prevent such properties from catching fire.

    O’Brien — who was appointed by Mayor Carmel Monti in December on a contract that expires March 31 — reported that he’s been making notes on his rounds about “suspect properties,” and conducting “considerable code research.”

    O’Brien said, “The majority of the cases are at 10 feet, 11 feet, and don’t pose any problem,” of the distance between separated duplex units.

    However, he said, three duplexes are “problematic” and one under construction has recently been notified to comply with safety requirements in the code.

    The next step in his investigation, O’Brien said, is to pull the permit documents and examine the construction plans.

    In some plans O’Brien has noticed fire code problems. While some precautions were taken, he said, there were no “tested assemblies.”

    O’Brien told the commissioners, “When we understand the hazard, we have the duty to take action. It would be negligent to do otherwise. And I promise you all I’ll never do that.

    “The first line of responsibility is with the builders,” he said. While the city permit gives them the right to build, he added, it does not allow construction in violation of the code.

    O’Brien added that he’s taking a measured approach.

    “If we find some deficiencies, we will discuss it with the specific builders before alarming the owners,” he added.

    West Manatee Fire Rescue District Chief Andy Price advised commissioners Jan. 10 he recommends sprinklers to protect against fire hazards in Holmes Beach duplexes. He said fences, power lines and the closeness of the homes allow “absolutely no access to some of these structures.”

    A sprinkler system requirement is required in some instances for a three-story building, but O’Brien noted differing interpretations in national fire code and local codes.

    Commissioner Judy Titsworth recommended the commissioners require sprinklers for three-story homes.

    “I think LAR takes care of that,” said Commissioner David Zaccagnino, referring to a new ordinance that limits future dwellings to a .34 living area ratio, specific to the Residential-2 zone where duplexes are allowed.

    Commissioner Pat Morton disagreed that the LAR ordinance could address the existing safety issue.

    Another ordinance — to be considered at the March 6 planning commission meeting — is proposed to eliminate the practice of joining units by use of an underground footer and instead require party walls. The units appear to be two single-family homes and Zaccagnino has said in the past he prefers the added landscaping and appearance of homes over the joined duplex units.

    Peelen said, “Certainly the sentiment up here is that we would like to see sprinklers on the third floor.”

    She directed O’Brien to continue his investigation.

        Zaccagnino added, “We would also feel horrible if something happened, if they were built incorrectly.”

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