Water fight! Some in Beaufort at odds over sprinklers in new construction

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It appears developers of MidTown Square and the City of Beaufort have their hearts set on including sprinkler systems in the residential/commercial project bound for the Northwest Quadrant.

At least that's the case according to an article this morning in The Island Packet and a press release sent out by the city.

What seems to be happening is the city and developer are setting this up for a fight with Beaufort-Jasper Water & Sewer Authority, accusing the utility of charging increased fees and jeopardizing the safety of future residents. We didn't say it, just read the article and release below for yourselves.

What's not mentioned is whether local tax credits, an option signed into law back in 2008, will be triggered by the city if these sprinklers are installed.

The Island Packet can give you a bit of history on these tax credits in this 2008 article.

And here's the city press release:

Offering expanded safety features, including residential sprinklers, in new downtown Beaufort housing will create a safer community, said Beaufort Fire Chief Sammy Negron, MidTown Square developer Steven Tully and builder Allan Patterson.

The design would feature recessed sprinkler heads throughout the living area of the homes now being constructed at Bladen and Adventure streets in Beaufort’s Northwest Quadrant. The infill project at the long-vacant property in the center of downtown is one of the early accomplishments of the Beaufort Redevelopment Commission.

“When we can create interior residential sprinkler systems, tied in with active alarms and a highly-trained, well equipped fire department, we create a safer place for people to live and a safer city because of reduced risk of fire,” Negron said.

The expected cost of the residential sprinkler system in the MidTown Square homes is approximately $2 per square foot, Tully said.

“These will be very attractive, set up into the ceiling and designed to blend into the interior. It’s not something that sticks out a lot, and it provides a huge improvement in safety,” he said.

While the engineering and designs are well underway, challenges remain, Tully and Negron said.

High ceilings require a larger, one-inch water meter per house, upgraded from the 3/4 –inch version that Beaufort-Jasper Water and Sewer Authority typically approves.  Adding the larger-flow water meter brings an added cost from BJWSA.

“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,” Negron said.

State law prohibits water utility companies from charging more than actual costs for taps and equipment related to residential sprinkler systems.

Adding interior safety sprinklers provides benefits to the homeowners and to adjoining property owners, Negron said.

The property is a few blocks from Beaufort Elementary, a few blocks to the city’s core commercial district, a few blocks to USC-B and a few blocks to the City and County government offices.

“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. “We have excellent firefighters, great equipment and centrally-located fire stations, but adding a residential sprinkler system to a home is a huge help in safety.”

Bill Farmer and Ralph Foster of the Savannah River Society of Fire Protection Engineers have been advising the Fire Department and MidTown Square developers on the value of sprinklers. They’ve also helped the Beaufort Fire Department to install residential sprinkler systems in Habitat for Humanity homes built in the city, Negron said.

MidTown Square’s two-plus acres is slated for up to 16 homes and six “live-work units” developed by Tully and John Trask III. Beaufort city leaders already have in place plans for $1.3 million in streetscape improvements in the area of Bladen, Prince, Duke and Adventure streets. The improvements are being paid for through two federal Community Development Block Grants.

The project is the first approved under the city's new Bladen Street Redevelopment District zoning code -- a form-based code that emphasizes how a structure fits into a neighborhood rather than how it will be used. The form-based code work, led by the Redevelopment Commission and the City’s Office of Civic Investment, is being done in conjunction with Port Royal and Beaufort County.

Six MidTown Square homes already are under construction or under contract. Custom homes in Midtown Square will start around $260,000 and pre-designed homes will cost less, said builder Allen Patterson. By design, homes will be built close to the road with parking in the rear to encourage interaction with neighbors walking past.

For more information about Beaufort, visit www.cityofbeaufort.org.