Fire code debate still burning

BALDINI

MARQUETTE — The Marquette City Commission, in a last-minute addition to the agenda, discussed expediting a decision on the controversial city fire code debate at its regular meeting this week.

The move, which was to rescind a previous postponement, ultimately failed in a split vote Tuesday, meaning without further action, the issue won’t be considered until December.

The city is technically without a fire code in the interim, fire officials have said.

When the issue was first brought before the commission in June, Fire Chief Ian Davis said he was surprised to learn that by some error, there was no fire code on the books. Davis has since pushed for the commission to approve the National Fire Prevention Association Code 1.

But some local developers have vocally opposed NFPA-1 and instead prefer the International Fire Code, which is promulgated by the International Codes Council.

CAMPANA

The commission has had a public hearing, a follow-up discussion and a work session on the issue.

The fire code discussion was added to the agenda at the start of Tuesday’s meeting, garnering criticism from some members of the public. Commissioners Mike Conley and Sara Cambensy were absent.

Fred Stonehouse, who is running for a seat on the city commission, said the agenda is for public notice, and it “does not speak well for the commission” to discuss a “highly contentious” issue without notice.

Mayor Dave Campana said their intention was merely to vote on whether to place it on the next meeting agenda for a public hearing.

Stonehouse said it still should have been on the agenda.

PLOURDE

Commissioner Mike Plourde, with support from Commissioner Pete Frazier, moved to rescind the motion that was adopted on June 26 to postpone consideration of the fire code ordinance for six months.

After discussion, the vote was 3-2 in favor of rescinding the postponement, but the motion failed because it required a two-thirds majority to pass.

Frazier, Plourde and Campana supported rescinding the postponement, with the intention of scheduling a public hearing for the next regular meeting. Commissioner Sarah Reynolds and Mayor Pro Tem Tom Baldini opposed the motion, favoring postponement.

Marquette resident Matt Luttenberger, who had requested to speak on the issue, said he favored the six-month delay to allow for due diligence on the issue. He also said he agreed with Stonehouse and claimed this was the seventh agenda amendment this year. Plourde stopped him with a point of order and said Luttenberger was only allowed to speak about the code itself.

Baldini said he was sticking to his original decision to postpone the issue.

“We have some very restrictive procedures, (and) we don’t have a good review policy or an appeals process,” as the city does with taxes and zoning, Baldini said. “We have the fire department establishing this code as being the procedure in the city. They are in effect going to be in charge of what happens in the city in terms of expansion, (and) there’s no appeal, OK?”

Baldini said he’s not opposed to safety codes, but favors an appeals process, where a person could request a hearing.

Plourde said the city has publicly discussed the subject already, and it was not his intent to push for a “vote in the night.”

“I’m concerned because the city of Marquette’s liability is in jeopardy,” Plourde said. “Through the public hearings, it’s become clear to me that we have some developers in the area that simply will do the absolute minimum that they have to do by law, and this is my opinion, … to the detriment of public safety — in other words, putting some lives in danger. … We need to have an ordinance in place and that’s why I want to bring the discussion up a lot sooner. I feel personally we’ve waited too long already.”

Reynolds said she has talked to people with an interest in economic development who are concerned about the lack of appeals process. Plus, she added, two commissioners were absent, including Cambensy who originally voted to postpone the issue.

“And I wanted to stick with what I always do when we add something to the agenda that’s not procedural. I did the same thing with eminent domain,” Reynolds said. “I don’t think it appropriate to add something to the agenda, especially at this kind of moment, when this has been heated.”

Campana said he didn’t think the commission was moving too fast.

“We do not presently have a fire code in the city,” he said. “I understand there’s concerns about economic development. We never want to stymie economic development, I just don’t think that’ll really happen. I just think it’s important that we have a fire code in effect going forward.”

Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248. Her email address is mwardell@miningjournal.net.