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Two St. Charles County Councilmembers defend new building codes amid ongoing debate

The St. Charles County Council, on June 12, again tabled legislation adopting updated international building codes, but not before two councilmembers rose to their defense. One of those councilmembers used to be the county’s top building official.

Councilmember Dave Hammond [District 4], the county’s former building commissioner, said today’s residential and commercial building codes incorporate research and input from a variety of professionals, ranging from architects to real estate professionals, to safeguard people’s lives. Adopting updated codes incorporates new and improved technology and materials into the building process, he said.

“What people expect when they go into a house is that the floor doesn’t collapse or the roof doesn’t fall in or the wiring doesn’t catch fire – that’s why we have building codes,” Hammond said. “And the only thing we’re doing is trying to keep up with new codes and new building standards that are used throughout this country.”

Other countries that don’t have comparable codes are still seeing people dying when buildings collapse or burn, he said. International building codes originated in this country and are now called international because much of the rest of the world wants to adopt them, he said.

“Now other countries are looking at us and saying ‘hey, you guys have a great record.’” Hammond said.

Hammond’s comments came after the council again heard from residents opposing the county adopting a series of international residential, building, plumbing, mechanic, fire and electrical codes.  The county is currently using the 2009 international codes and typically amends it about every six years to include code changes.

An ad-hoc committee that includes Cronin and Joe Brazil and Councilmember Michael Klinghammer [District 6] has been reviewing the code with county staff and suggesting changes. Cronin submitted a substitute bill at the June 12 meeting that include changes but the council opted to delay final action to allow more review.

Cronin said he was concerned about the impact of codes on the rural parts of the county while safeguarding new home construction in places like Wentzville and lowering the cost of new homes.  Builders told him that the new codes could add $6,000 to $10,000 to the cost of new homes.

The substitute bill addresses many but not all 2015 codes concerns, including lowering fines for violations and limiting regulations of fences in rural areas, he said.

About a dozen or more residents urged the council during the public comment portion of the meeting not to adopt the 2015 codes. Some voiced similar concerns at the council’s May 30 meeting.

Councilmember Terry Hollander [District 5] took issue with some of the public comment.  “It seems to me that you are against building codes,” Hollander said. He said the adoption of building codes has not hindered the growth of the county. If there was such a huge problem, many people would be coming before the council. “I have not seen that in my eight years on the council.”

In the last six weeks, he also said he has not gotten a call from builders saying the updates are off base. Residents have done a great job in pointing out problems, which the substitute bill may help correct, he said.

Brazil, however, was skeptical, suggesting that the county administration was “pushing” for their passage. He said he and Cronin represent the most rural parts of the county. Other councilmembers don’t receive complaints about building issues because residents deal with municipalities that have their own building departments, he added.

Brazil drew some sharp criticism from other councilmembers and County Executive Steve Ehlmann, who defended a staff memo on the issue.

Klinghammer said the county has not “rubber-stamped” the new code changes and has listened to comments and may make more changes that are reflected in the substitute bill.

He said the world has changed from the time someone could buy a pile of lumber and build their own house. “That’s not the situation that we’re in today,” he said. “The houses that we live in are a whole lot safer because of that.”

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