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Township undoes disputed fire code change

Township undoes disputed fire code change


By Scott Sullivan


The International Fire Code amendment that launched 1,000-plus recall votes was undone by the Saugatuck Township board Aug. 7.

The pre-recall board voted in August 2017 to amend the then-applied 2012 version of the Code — citing some area builders’ complaints that Saugatuck Township Fire District leaders’ interpretation and enforcement were overreaching — by a 3-2 margin. Members voted 4-1 two months later to adopt the 2015 Code, also with the exceptions as amended.

The votes followed months of strained, ultimately failed negotiations between township and fire district leaders. Douglas and Saugatuck city representatives also opposed the changes, although they did not apply to their jurisdictions.

The dispute keyed a recall effort that Nov. 8 last year removed clerk Brad Rudich, treasurer Lori Babinski and trustees Roy McIlwaine and Doug Lane from the township board. They were replaced with, respectively, Bill Wester, Jon Helmrich, Abby Bigford and Stacey Aldrich.

Wester resigned soon after for family medical reasons. Bigford replaced him as clerk and the board named Brenda Marcy, also a recall supporter, to fill the new trustee opening.

After supervisor Chris Roerig, who ran unopposed in November and was the former board’s lone holdover, resigned this April, the board chose Cindy Osman — the Saugatuck city zoning administrator who, with firefighter’s wife Kathy Sturm, led the recall petition effort — to replace him.

Those five Aug. 7 followed through on their mandate to reinstate aspects of the IFC amended by the board they replaced, but admitted revisions are incomplete.

Notable changes the action will make, said Griffin Graham, the township’s third manager since November, include:

  • Adopts the IFC, 2015 Edition, including all appendices, except Appendix A.
  • Removes provisions that exempt single-family and two-family homes from certain Code requirements.
  • Provides for a board of appeals to hear and decide appeals of orders, decisions or determinations by fire officials relative to Code application and interpretation (as put into practice last year by the former board in conjunction with district partner cities).
  • Changes how the township treats Code violations from misdemeanors to municipal civil infractions, and
  • Reworks cost-recovery provisions to make them consistent with ones in effect by the township’s two city partners.

“Subsequently,” wrote Griffin in a board memo for the Aug. 7 meeting, “we can revisit adopting the 2018 IFC, which includes additional marijuana provisions, once the state approves the 2018 International Building Code with Michigan modifications (in accord with new state marijuana law provisions).

“Michigan is a mini-max state,” he continued, “meaning we cannot enforce a construction code more stringent than the state.

“Since the IFC doesn’t have a Michigan version yet, adopting the 2018 IFC while the 2015 IBC is in effect (as modified by the state) would create conflicts between the Michigan Building Code and IFC. In such case the IFC would have to be amended (not applied) to comply with Michigan law.

“Historically, the state gets around to adopting the latest IBC version about two years after it is disseminated. This means we could likely anticipate revisiting this topic sometime in 2020.”

Graham said district officials had told him “they will continue to do their best under the current Code conditions to mitigate hazards of marijuana until the 2018 MBC is required by the state.

“All fire district personnel, said Chief Greg Janik, “and their families commend the township trustees for reinstating the IFC that provides minimum requirements consistent with nationally-recognized good practice for providing a reasonable level of safety and property protection from the hazards of fire, explosion or dangerous conditions and to provide a reasonable level of safety to firefighters and emergency responders during emergency operations.

“The trustees have enhanced the level of safety for the benefit of our taxpayers, visitors, firefighters and emergency responders by taking action to re-establish the IFC that aligns with Douglas and Saugatuck,” Janik said.

The changes will take effect 30 days following publication in The Commercial Record, in accordance with state law.