June 25th, 2008 by Residential Fire Sprinklers .com
By CHRISTIAN M. WADE – Tampa Tribune
ZEPHYRHILLS – The developer of a massive town home project could be exempted from the new municipal sprinkler law, under a tentative agreement reached with city officials.
Miami-based Lennar Homes LLC – developer of the 250-unit Eiland Park Townhomes – argues they should be grandfathered in under the new ordinance because the complex was approved long before the city council passed the law.
City Manager Steve Spina said negotiations between city officials and the company have resulted in a deal that will exempt the homebuilder from installing the fire safety devices.
Ultimately, the council, which meets at 6 this evening, has to sign off on the agreement.
Initially, city officials had opposed Lennar’s exemption request. They argued that the gated community going up off Eiland Boulevard is only partially constructed and most of the town homes there haven’t been permitted yet.
Those already permitted wouldn’t have to include sprinklers.
But Lennar’s lawyers poked holes in the new law, arguing that it doesn’t meet the statutory requirements for a local amendment to the state’s fire prevention codes.
In a written complaint, they also criticized the appeal system as lacking in due process.
“The procedure that the city has provided for us to challenge the validity of the ordinance is flawed because it is being heard by the same body that approved it,” the complaint stated.
Spina said he and other Zephyrhills officials were worried about the possibility of a legal challenge if council members rejected Lennar’s request to be grandfathered in.
“That was certainly a concern,” Spina said. “They Lennar are holding all the cards.”
Marshall Ames, a Lennar spokesman in Miami, declined to comment. Attorneys for the homebuilder are expected to attend tonight’s council meeting.
The law, approved in September, requires all new residential and commercial projects with more than 5,000 square feet to install fire sprinkler systems.
Existing businesses are required to install the systems if they renovate, expand or convert their buildings for other uses.
Approval of the new regulations was hard-fought. Several council members, including now-council President Danny Burgess, questioned the need for it. The vote was 3-2.
Under the new law, affected parties are allowed to file an appeal for an exemption.
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