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Building code updates draw ire of St. Charles County councilmen

A normally routine matter of approving an update of the international building codes that regulate construction in the county drew the ire of St. Charles County Councilmembers who said changes may be costly to residents.

Councilmen Joe Cronin [District 1], Joe Brazil [District 2] and Mike Klinghammer [District 6] voted against a bill amending the county building codes to bring them up to date with the 2015 international building codes. Councilman Mike Elam [District 3] voted for it.

The bill failed. Councilmen Dave Hammond [District 5], Terry Hollander [District 5] and John White [District 7] were absent. Elam, who is also chairman of the council, scheduled a council work session on Feb. 27 to discuss questions and issues that council members have with the amended code.

Brazil said his review of the lengthy bill that deals with mechanical, electrical, sewage, fire protection, swimming, plumbing and construction issues calls for changes that add new expenses to home improvements. Brazil said the amendments seem to call for approvals by engineers and requirements for building that would cost residents more money.

Brazil cited passages in the code that appear to require additional dry in basements that would have to be torn out for make additional basement improvements, requirements that suggest to him an engineer’s seal that may be needed for some air conditioning units or a backyard deck, all of which add costs. “Are you kidding me?” Brazil asked.

Cronin said his district has a lot of rural people that build houses on their property.  “This thing is bad for my district,”  he said. “It’s going to substantially increase the cost for people who decide they want to build a home on three acres on the family farm that’s been in their family for 100 years.”

Elam said he wanted the full council to discuss the code amendments “rather than spinning our wheels.” He mentioned Hammond, a former county building director, who had worked on the bill.

County Executive Steve Ehlmann and Jennifer George, the county’s assistant director of administration, said staff would be willing to work closely with council to answer questions. Changes to the code are noted in black in the bill and council members could compare previous code updates, they said.

Klinghammer said there are things he agrees and disagrees with the updated codes but council members need a closer look. He asked that the additional cost of changes be provided by county staff.

Ehlmann noted that a recent newspaper article noted that building code changes under review in St Louis County are similar to ones in the county ordinance. “The criticism over there is that it’s [the St. Louis County update] is too lenient, the criticism here is that it’s too tough.” Ehlmann said.

Cronin and Brazil agreed that the changes might affect rural residents more than city residents. Cronin noted that Ehlmann’s comments on differing views of the update in different counties “might simply be the fact that they’re [St. Louis County] mostly Democrats and we’re mostly Republican.” He said, “As a good Republican, I like less rules, less regulations, less fines.”

Cronin noted that the code lists fines, for example, of $250 for a stop work order that would increase if not paid promptly. “That the same stuff was pulled in Ferguson and I want no part of that in my district,” he said. He said a resident could literally get a “life sentence if you don’t paint your house in three months with this thing.” Three miles away in adjacent Lincoln County, people can build a house without these regulations, he added.

Ehlmann said the council has the votes to change how the code applies to St. Charles County. Some provisions of the code being questioned are already been in effect, he said.

County officials also said council members need to look at the “scope” of some requirements, which may indicate that some of the issues they are worried about don’t apply to residents.

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