Revelstoke council overrules staff on fireflow concerns

Revelstoke council says two buildings can go ahead without proper fire flow to the area.

This home on Farrell Road was built without a building permit due to fire flow concerns to the neighbourhood. Last meeting

Should construction be able to go ahead even if there’s not enough fire flow to meet regulations?

That was the question council faced on two separate applications last week, and in both cases they set the stage for building permits to be issued despite the lack of adequate fire flow.

At issue were a storage facility in the Big Eddy, and a home on Farrell Road near the Revelstoke Railway Museum. In both cases, city staff recommended council deny development variance permit applications that would allow construction to go ahead without proper fire flow in the area.

And in both cases, a divided council overruled staff’s recommendation, setting the stage for approval of the applications at the next council meeting and the issuance of building permits.

First was Vince Sessa’s application relating to an eight-unit storage facility he is seeking to build in the Big Eddy.

According to a report by Dean Strachan, the city’s manager of development services, the building permit application was first brought forward in 2013 but was stopped at the last minute when the fire flow issues were uncovered in the Big Eddy.

“Both Mike Thomas, director of engineering and development services, and Rob Girard, fire chief, have expressed significant concern with additional development on the subject property in advance to the water system upgrades to provide adequate fire flow to hydrants,” wrote Strachan. “Adequate water supply and the need to shuttle water to sites in the Big Eddy area during fire fighting operations are of significant concern for the fire chief.”

Upgrades to the Big Eddy Water System in the area are not expected to take place until 2018, the report says.

After years of dispute between Sessa and the city, Sessa filed a development variance permit application to reduce the required fire flow for the building to zero litres per second from the required 225 litres per second.

“Now that the Big Eddy Water System is being transferred to the city and the upgrades to meet fire flows are being funded and planned, I would ask that council vary this section of their bylaws so I can proceed with construction,” wrote Sessa in a letter to mayor and council. “This is an interim measure that would allow me to move forward with a project I started three years ago with the city’s knowledge that, although a variance is needed right now, once the city does the upgrade work it would then comply.”

Mayor Mark McKee led the charge in supporting the variance request, followed by councillors Scott Duke, Gary Sulz and Trevor English. More specifically, they voted against denying the variance permit, setting the stage for staff to bring forward a motion to support it.

“We’ve got an opportunity to move forward and I think there is an extremely comfortable level of risk, no more than what we already have,” said McKee.

Coun. Aaron Orlando raised questions about the city’s liability if there was a fire, and he also worried about what kind of precedent it would set. “I don’t think it’s worth it. I understand the applicant is frustrated, but we’re a couple of years off doing it the right way,” he said.

Coun. Linda Nixon noted that another Big Eddy property owner went to the lengths of installing a sprinkler system to get his development approved, and asked why anyone would bother to comply with fire flow rules if council didn’t deny the request.

A few minutes later, a similar request came up for a home on Farrell Road near the Revelstoke Railway Museum. The home was built without a building permit, which the city refused to issue because of fire flow issues in the area.

Once again, staff recommended denying their variance request to issue the building permit without adequate fire flows, and once again a divided council overruled staff.

The city has been looking for a way to improve fire flow to the neighbourhood, however the the latest estimate pegged the cost of the work at more than $700,000 — a huge price for the small number of property owners to bear.

“What I would like to suggest is that this be approved, that we direct staff to put this project in a five year plan to get resolved so they can look to see if there are any grant applications available,” said McKee.

Farrell Road water upgrades are not in the city’s five-year capital plan, but Thomas said council could make it a priority. “It would come down to council’s wishes what they want to focus on. Fire protection is a core service for neighbourhoods,” he said.

However, he cautioned the city has many aging pipes that need to be replaced as well. “We need to be looking at asset management as a whole,” he said. “I feel a water master plan is something we should look at in the next couple of years.”