City, developers encourage sprinklers in downtown residential development

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City, developers encourage sprinklers in downtown residential development

By JULIANN VACHON
jvachon@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8184
Published Monday, August 1, 2011   |  568 Words  |  

Project investors and the city of Beaufort are encouraging those who build homes in a new Northwest Quadrant development to include fire sprinklers in their plans.

The city's fire chief says they would make the community safer, but some builders are skeptical there will be demand for a feature that will add about $2 per square foot to the price of a new home.

"We're hoping that having the sprinklers available will make (MidTown Square) a more attractive option," said developer Steve Tully, who said Beaufort officials approached him about promoting the installation of fire sprinklers in new homes.

Tully and Allen Patterson, the project's builder, broke ground earlier this year on MidTown Square, a mixed-use residential and commercial project. If built to capacity, it would include as many as 16 single-family homes and six live-work units.

Residents would have the option to install the sprinklers and would absorb most of the cost for the safety upgrade, Tully said. Patterson said the added expense is a concern for both developers and probably for prospective homeowners, too.

Six homes are under construction or under contract at MidTown Square -- at least one of those is a speculative home not slated to include sprinklers, Patterson said.

"We're still evaluating the cost of putting them in our spec homes," he said. "One of the big hurdles we're running into is making sure the utilities are on board with it."

High ceilings require a larger-flow water meter than typically approved by the Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, which serves the Northwest Quadrant. A larger-flow water meter will likely cost homeowners more, according to a city news release.

"It is our hope that we can demonstrate to Beaufort-Jasper Water that this upgrade is for the safety of the residents and the safety of the neighborhood, and that they will waive the increased fee for the larger water meter," Beaufort Fire Chief Sammy Negron said in the release.

Developers also are checking in with insurance companies to see if a residential sprinkler system would reduce a buyer's insurance rate.

"I think that will be the only way we can sell this to homeowners," Patterson said. "But we're trying to encourage people to use the sprinklers. It's a good thing."

Others in the construction industry agree price is the main concern.

Tim Rentz, owner of Coastal Contractors Inc. in Beaufort, said none of his customers has shown interest in residential sprinklers.

"If somebody was willing to pay for it, I'd be glad to put it in," Rentz said. "But right now, people don't have the extra money to spend on it."

Adding interior safety sprinklers would benefit both homeowners and adjoining property owners, Negron said in the release.

MidTown Square is blocks from Beaufort Elementary School, the city's core commercial district and city and county government offices, he said.

"In a downtown environment, where homes and structures are close together, anything we can do to lessen the likelihood of a structure fire makes Beaufort a better place to live," Negron said.

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Developers call MidTown Square an investment, May 8, 2011