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County Councilmembers express concern over proposed building code changes

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Several County councilmembers remain skeptical about the county adopting international building codes governing residential and commercial construction.

They say that some new requirements don’t provide enough safety protection to justify their costs, which may affect the ability of some to buy new homes and impact the housing industry in the county.

Councilmembers Joe Cronin [District 1] and Joe Brazil [District 2] aired their concerns to colleagues at the May 8 County Council meeting.

In February, the council failed to pass a bill updating a series of international residential, building, plumbing, mechanic, fire and electrical codes changes. The county currently uses the 2009 international codes as the standard and amends those about every six years to include council-approved changes.

In March, Councilmember Mike Elam [District 3] agreed to form the committee to review the 7,000-page code after Cronin and Brazil questioned the code, saying it was too complicated.

On May 8, the council gave first reading to a bill updating the codes, but not before other councilmembers agreed to amend the bill at a later meeting to deal with Cronin’s and Brazil’s objections.

Cronin and Brazil focused on code requirements that call for the use of manufactured floor joists, which burn slower than wood joists, and the need to use more drywall in basements. According to the councilmembers’ concerns, covering joists with drywall makes finishing off basements difficult because the drywall has to be removed to fix up a basement. Cronin said builders told him that this may add $3,000 to $4,000 to the cost of a new home.

One builder who develops homes in Wentzville, and Warren and Lincoln counties told Cronin that costs for his Wentzville homes will be higher than other neighboring counties because the city adopted the new code updates.

Cronin said he is worried about young families being priced out of the market, added costs and the impact on the county’s housing industry. Homes already have fire alarms and firemen can pinpoint heat sources with new equipment, he said.

“How many thousands of dollars do we need to spend for that little extra margin of safety of a few minutes,” Cronin asked.

Councilmember Michael Klinghammer [District 6] questioned comparing St. Charles County housing standards to already less stringent standards in outlying counties. But while agreeing with Klinghammer, Brazil echoed Cronin’s concerns, adding that new code requirements could add $10,000 to a 2,400-square-foot home.

Brazil said it has to be proven to him why some regulations are needed instead of having them “dictated by bureaucrats.”

“You don’t want to over regulate, you can only make something so safe, same as a car,” Brazil said. “What we’re doing here is over regulating.”

Councilmember Dave Hammond [District 4] said adopting new codes allows the county to incorporate changes and new technology. Communities often adopt similar codes so building standards are uniform throughout the county. But he said the council could opt out of some provisions, such as the use of manufactured floor joists for added fire protection. He said he was willing to offer an amendment to the bill to that effect.

Cronin and Brazil agreed to that step. Cronin said such a change might help other builders move on with projects that have been delayed.

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