No Fire Protection Waiver for Proposed House

The rules exist for a reason, the Derry Planning Board determined, when it denied a waiver from the Land Development Control Regulations (LDCR) to a couple planning to build a house on Taylor Brook Lane.
Jeffrey and Rosemary Moulton submitted the request for a waiver from the fire protection requirement for their property at 5 Taylor Brook Lane, Parcel ID 18041.

Jeffrey Moulton spoke to the board at its Wednesday, June 19 meeting, and said he had been working with the town and state for a year and a half to replace the existing building, a summer cottage, with a year-round dwelling. He requested a waiver from the 2004 Planning Board decision to require all new homes to have a cistern.

While current state law prohibits the direct requirement for sprinklers to be installed, Derry’s LDCR 170-30 requires a cistern be installed as water supply for the property. The cistern must be sized according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1142 on Water Supplies for Suburban and Rural Firefighting, according to a letter from Derry Fire Chief George Klauber.

The board can deny the waiver request and either require a cistern to be installed or accept a sprinkler system as its equivalent, Klauber wrote. Klauber also noted that the proposed home is down a long driveway that would make fire equipment access difficult, and though it is located next to a lake, it would be difficult for the Fire Department to have access to the water supply.

Fire Prevention Director James Kersten concurred with Klauber’s findings. Planning Vice-Chair John O’Connor, who is also a state representative, said a piece of legislation expected to be signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan would change all that. HB 278 has passed both the House and Senate and would prohibit local planning boards from requiring a fire suppression sprinkler system as a condition of approval for a local permit. The bill also states that nothing will prohibit a local board from mandating “a cistern, dry hydrant, fire pond or other credible water source other than a fire suppression sprinkler system.”

The proposed legislation would leave the sprinkler issue up to the homeowner, O’Connor said.
But until it’s signed, the town’s rule rules, officials agreed. The Moulton property is part of a subdivision created nine years ago that required each home in the subdivision to have a sprinkler system. Moulton said he and his attorney did not realize this until December of last year.

“This lot is in the flood plain and across from a lake,” he told the board. “The house won’t have a cellar, so there will be no room for a storage tank for a sprinkler.” He would have to redesign the house, Moulton told the board. That, and the $6,000 estimated for the sprinkler, would cause him an economic hardship, he said.

A cistern would not be cost-effective for a single-family home, he added. Moulton said a better way to prevent fires is with a smoke detector, and he’d designed the new house with two means of egress from each room. Moulton, a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, questioned whether regulations such as Derry’s would keep people out of affordable housing.

O’Connor asked Moulton what the cost savings for his home insurance would be if he installed the sprinkler. Moulton said there would be an estimated 10 to 15 percent reduction on his homeowner’s policy. But he added that the maintenance for the sprinkler system – monthly, semiannual and annual – would “vastly outweigh” his insurance savings.

Town Administrator John Anderson asked Moulton what the new home was expected to cost, and Moulton said $450,000. “Half a million dollars, and you’re balking at a $6,000 sprinkler system?” Anderson asked.
Moulton reiterated that he would have to partially redesign the house. He referred to his Habitat experiences, saying, “you need to look at this across the board, not a single instance. You are squeezing out part of the population.”

Board Chairman David Granese said his home, built in 2005, is 1,000 feet from a cistern. But he has a sprinkler anyway, reasoning, “I feel more safe. It would take 8 to 10 minutes for a fire truck to get to my house.” “Not the way Randy drives,” Anderson quipped, referring to board member and firefighter Randall Chase.

Anderson also questioned whether living next to a lake was really effective for fire prevention. “How do you propose to get the water out of the lake in winter?” he asked.
Chase contributed, “It has to be accessible.” He noted that Taylor Brook Lane is “precarious at best” for fire trucks.

The cistern is required under the current regulations, Chase said, but Moulton has the choice – “If you opt out of the cistern, you can put a sprinkler in.” Anderson reminded Moulton of the percentage of his total investment that the sprinkler cost would be. Moulton replied, “I am a professional engineer and have done cost-benefit analyses. This doesn’t hold up. The industry standard is, ‘What can you afford?’”

Resident Mark Flattes said during the public comment portion, “I urge the board to deny this request. Keep a sprinkler or cistern as a requirement – it’s a matter of life safety.” The board voted 0-9 against granting the waiver. Chase explained his no vote as, “The regulations are in place for a good reason.”