Montpelier, Vt., City Manager Bill Fraser on building code trends
Building codes are a key consideration for local government officials. What are some of the most notable recent trends you’ve seen around building codes?
In our community, there seems to be a feeling that we should relax them a little bit. City government has been considering them a major part of our public safety strategy, but citizens and some public officials see them as impediments to development and seek compromise. The residential sprinkler requirement for new homes gets singled out a lot.
There is anecdotal information that some jurisdictions wait to implement the latest version of a building code for political or perceived cost-savings reasons. Have you seen this happening?
I think those are always factors. In our case, we adopt whatever code the state adopts, because in Vermont, much of the commercial development around the state is managed by state government. We are the contracted state inspector as well, so we make sure we enact the same codes they’re enacting. We do adopt our own amendments, which might be stricter than the state standard.
What are some of the challenges local governments face related to building codes?
One of the most difficult things related to building codes is that they’re preventive, and it’s always difficult to measure or celebrate prevention. You often don’t know what might have happened if the codes hadn’t been in place.
For example, we had a historic downtown building with sprinklers installed, and they ended up putting out a grease fire that would have otherwise taken out the whole block. We tried to make a news flash about that, letting people know that if the sprinkler had not been there, we would have had a big vacant lot in our downtown. People would have noticed that.