- Family Features
- Business Directory
- Gallery Of Homes
- Subscribe Now!
- Place A Classified Ad
- New! Digital e-Edition
Farmer ignites fire issue – safety concern drives city councilor to alter setbacks
Aug 03, 2006 12:00 am
Following up statements from last week's City Council meeting, Ward 3 Councilor William Farmer aims to mandate 20 feet of space between new houses being built, citing fire safety concerns.
The Ward 3 councilor said several subdivisions which would have a mere 10 feet between buildings present a safety hazard and stretch firefighters' resources.
"What happens is when houses are that close and you get a fire that's much more intense, you're much more likely to catch the building next to you" on fire from radiant heat or flames, Farmer said.
The added benefit for builders is they can put more houses in a specific space, but Farmer said the bottom line is simple.
"We're protecting people's lives, and we're protecting firemen … when all you have to do is have five feet more on the side yards," Farmer said.
While the most dense standard zoning requires a minimum of 16 feet between structures, City Planner Magi Tilton noted planned unit developments (PUDs) allow variances down to 10 feet per structure.
"The way our PUD ordinance is written allows for modifying the regulations, which could include setbacks," Tilton said.
She said while none are under construction, several subdivisions with 10 feet between structures have been approved by the Lebanon Planning Commission and City Council.
Farmer's proposal would grandfather plans already approved. However, if any plans are modified or adjusted, the 20-foot requirement would apply.
If passed, all plats submitted to the Planning Commission after Sept. 30 would require 20 feet between houses. In the meantime, Farmer proposes beefing up the city's firewall codes.
Many walls in dense subdivisions have a one-hour firewall, but Farmer said any windows or non-fireproof doors installed takes away from the buffer.
Building Inspector Danny Raines said the percentage of openings allowed in a firewall depends on how large the side yard is.
"That code requirement, depending on the distance, allows you to have a certain percentage of openings in that wall," Raines said.
While he does not oppose development, Lebanon Fire Chief Wayne Driver explained building denser subdivisions means the fire department will eventually have to be beefed up.
"Where houses are close together, (fire departments) have more people," Driver said. "They can dispatch more people to these type fires. It just stands to reason if you build a big development, you've got to have enough sewer and water capacity … you've got to have fire service too, and that's just common sense."
"(The ordinance) doesn't cost us more firemen, engines and everything else," Farmer said. "Yes, the builders … lose a few lots, but whose profit are we worried about?"
Farmer recalled a fire in Willoughby Station in Mt. Juliet several years ago, which resulted in several homes catching fire because of the close proximity of the houses.
Wilson Emergency Management Agency Director Jerry McFarland said dense subdivisions force firefighters to immediately go into defensive mode – meaning they work to keep the fire from spreading to other structures, not just put out the initial flames.
McFarland, who remembered Willoughby Station fire, explained the radiant heat set four homes on fire. One was destroyed while two others suffered extensive damage. The fourth one was slightly damaged.
McFarland added more than 30 on and off-duty firefighters were needed to douse the flames.
Councilors will hear the issue on first reading Tuesday, Aug. 1.
Staff Writer Jason Cox can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 45 or by e-mail at email@example.com.