Council Postpones Code Changes

By Heidi Zemach for SCN

Monday’s April 22 Seward City Council meeting was unusually short. They clocked out of the meeting before 8:00 p.m., with the most controversial parts of the meeting dealing with adopting new building, fire and mechanical codes, postponed until a full council could be present.  City Manager James Hunt, Assistant Manager Ron Long, Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson, and Council member Christy Terry, were absent. All but Terry are on a good will trip to Washington D.C., and to Seattle, along with the Seward Chamber of Commerce leadership, meeting with representatives of major shipping companies and cruise ship companies, hoping to drum up more local business.

By unanimous consent, the council adopted the Consent Agenda adopting the Seward Port and Commerce Advisory Board’s priorities; authorizing payment of $96,000 to Alcan Electrical and Engineering Inc. for repairs needed to restore power to Camelot Subdivision; approving a contract amendment with R&M Consultants for $209,500 for managing the D-Float replacement project at the Small Boat Harbor.

Craig Turnbull, retired, accepts proclamation for his many years of service at Spring Creek. Heidi Zemach photo

Craig Turnbull, retired, accepts proclamation for his many years of service at Spring Creek. Heidi Zemach photo

There were several proclamations. Longtime, recently-retired Spring Creek Correctional Facility Superintendent Craig Turnbull was awarded one. Turnbull said he was honored, and was looking forward to seeing everyone at Safe-way, perhaps the town’s most frequent meeting-up place, as he’s not leaving town.

2013 Iditarod Champion Mitch Seavey, a two-time Iditarod winner who grew up and graduated high school in Seward, and still runs a dogsled tourist business here, also got a city proclamation. Seavey said he is honored by the recognition, and said Seward still means a lot to him. He pointed out however that the proclamation failed to mention that he was also the oldest person ever to win the Iditarod—a somewhat dubious distinction, he added, but one nonetheless. The proclamation had mentioned that his son Dallas, who won the Iditarod last year, was the youngest musher ever to do so.

2013 Iditarod winner Mitch Seavey accepts City of Seward proclamation. Heidi Zemach photo

2013 Iditarod winner Mitch Seavey accepts City of Seward proclamation. Heidi Zemach photo

Matt Gray, Watershed Program Coordinator for the Resurrection Bay Conservation Alliance and Jenna Giddens, a ranger with the Kenai Fjords National Park Service, picked up the April Bear Awareness Month proclamation. Both are Seward representatives on the Kenai Brown Bear Committee. They reminded residents to keep their yards and porches free of all bear rewards, even birdseed, thus training the bears to forage in our forests and streams, not around homes, businesses and dumpsters. At the suggestion of folks on the bear committee, the city recently signed a contract with Alaska Waste Inc., where people can now lease a 95 gallon bear-resistant garbage can from them for just $2 per month more than the standard rate.  Police will fine those who repeatedly allow bears to get into their trash.

Matt Gray, RBCA Watershed,  and Jenna Giddens, KFNPS ranger accept Bear Awareness proclamation. Heidi Zemach photo.

Matt Gray, RBCA Watershed, and Jenna Giddens, KFNPS ranger accept Bear Awareness proclamation. Heidi Zemach photo.

Several youngsters from TYC also showed up to advertise the upcoming children’s Bike Rodeo Safety program and Police Open House in early May. It’s a fun event enabling police to instill a message of safety in children bike riders. They give out free helmets to those who safely complete an obstacle course and demonstrate knowledge of correct biking skills, and volunteers some simple bike adjustments such as inflating tires, raising seats and checking breaks.



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The meat of the meeting was to have been holding public hearings and then adopting the 2012 International Mechanical Code, the 2012 International Building Code, and the 2012 International Fire Code, all with revisions.

Council also introduced the 2012 International Residential Code Ordinance, number 2013-007, which requires even more public hearings. But Councilmember Vanta Shafer felt they were all too important and lasting to adopt without a full council present, so she moved to postpone adoption of the first three until the May 13th council meeting, and the rest concurred.

The city fire department hopes the council will adopt the 2012 International Residential Code, and insert its own version of the code’s fire safety mandates for one and two-family homes that that sprinklers be installed. By statute enactment of that code revision requires at least three public hearings be held under a strictly-prescribed timeline. Council members did not want to rush this somewhat controversial requirement through, nor to hold all of the public hearings during the busy summertime when people are working, or away vacationing. So the City Clerk has spread out the hearing date schedule to May 28, August 12, and the final hearing and enactment September 9.

Under the proposed revision, Seward would mandate that sprinklers be installed in all new one or two-family homes that exceed 3,600 square feet.

The idea is that sprinkler systems are better able to quickly and effectively put out house fires. They use less water, and as a result, the homes would sustain less water damage than they would if the fire department responded. Also, given the amount of water needed for larger buildings, Fire Chief Dave Squires said, putting out a fire in those homes would likely draw down the city’s water supply, affecting other customers in the same neighborhoods, or even neighborhoods across town. Drawing down that amount of water—even at one locale, also risks breaking city water mains by overtaxing the aging system, he said. (More info about sprinklers www.homefiresprinkler.org)

In areas where there are houses built 3,600 square feet or larger, the city also would be required to change its average water flow requirement from 1500 gallons per minute for a two-hour period to 1750 gallons per minute for two hours, he said.

Failing to install sprinklers could be enforced, under existing state statute, with a $1,000 fine or one-year imprisonment. Squires said that would probably never happen, however. There would be warnings, and an appeals process first, or the city building inspector could “pull” the recalcitrant contractor’s building permit if they failed to comply.

Another proposed code revision to the 2012 IBC, its public hearing and adoption postponed till May 13, would allow new buildings to be constructed on wooden foundations, and would do away with the requirement that they be built upon a cement foundation. This change would make new construction more affordable than the current building code requires, said City Building Inspector Stephan Nilsson, but it also could make repairs to the underside of those buildings more difficult. It’s a proposal that some contractors had lobbied the city to enact.

Another proposed code revision to the IBC would allow temporary buildings located in Industrial zones to remain there indefinitely, doing away with the current five year limit. Currently, an owner must move their temporary building, or bring it up to existing city building code requirements such as hooking these structures up to the city water supply, providing flush toilets or hooking them up to city electric systems and meeting, Nilsson said. Councilwoman Marianna Keil strongly disputed citizen allegations made in the SCN comment section of an earlier story on this, that the council might be initiating the proposed change on behalf of Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson’s husband, who converts shipping containers to create affordable temporary worker’s housing. Keil said the proposal is only for Industrial zones, not for residential or commercial areas, and she has long proposed safer temporary structures.

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7 Comments

  1. “Councilwoman Marianna Keil strongly disputed citizen allegations made in the SCN comment section of an earlier story on this, that the council might be initiating the proposed change on behalf of Vice Mayor Jean Bardarson’s husband, who converts shipping containers to create affordable temporary worker’s housing. Keil said the proposal is only for Industrial zones, not for residential or commercial areas, and she has long proposed safer temporary structures.”

    Hm…aren’t those shipping containers located in an industrial zone for housing? It sure would benefit them then!

  2. It’s possible, but they also are one way to deal with a larger issue here–the lack of seasonal housing for workers that businesses need in order to operate. One could also argue perhaps that the city is trying to be business-friendly by allowing this temporary fix to continue. Of course it’s also a sad state of affairs to have workers housed in steel shipping containers rather than providing them with better accomodations: Heidi

  3. I find it interesting that this was brought up after Mr. Bardarson had to move his shipping containers, And yes this will directly effect council member Bardarson. I all for permanent housing. I never heard any discussion before by council member Keil on safer temporary structures. We have City codes to prevent this from happening lets not change them to benefit the parties involved.

  4. Mrs Bardarson’s son inlaw is also a contractor who would benefit if cheap wood foundations are allowed.

  5. marianna keil says:

    Having served on the Seward Planning and Zoning Commission for many years, my position has been consistent. I have had disagreements with Clark Corbridge and Phillip Oates over temporary structures, well before the Mr. Bardarson thought of his business and before his wife sat on council. Temporary structures serve a genuine purpose. Temporary structures do not have permanent foundations so are easily movable. A business in the industrial area has the ability to manage their property which best suits its needs. Start up businesses are allowed the opportunity to begin on a more limited budget. Temporary structures are currently allowed in the city code in most districts by conditional use permits. The funny thing is you could put wheels on a temporary structure and it would not be subject to the building code.

    I support what we have currently in the code where temporary structures are allowed for a certain allotted time and then removed or moved. The proposed amendment by the administration is specific to the housing issue. This is temporary housing, and yes I feel it is safer then the tent city and at the end of the short season it is moved off of the property. As I said at the council meeting I don’t support the administration’s proposal nor even my amendment. I support what we currently have in the code and have never been able to figure out why the administration has such a problem with temporary structures.

    As to the wood foundations issue this change was proposed by the administration even before we had the work session on the building code. Representatives from Harmon Construction and CAP construction were at the meeting and they were asked by Chief Squires what their opinion was of this change.

  6. Correction: Vice-mayor Bardarson, Assistant City Manager Long, and yours truly ( Not Council woman Terry), arrived today in Seattle. Prior to our arrival, we were in Washington, DC working with our outstanding lobbyist team to further all of Seward’s future interests! More to come at the next council meeting through our reports.

  7. What exactly is the rationale for allowing new buildings to be built on wooden foundations? I mean, would it be safe? I want to know more about these things. Great blog though because it provides updates.