Huntley Fire Protection District keeps sprinkler code despite frustration from new homebuilders

HUNTLEY – After Charles Harding started building his dream home west of Huntley in the Willow Hill subdivision, he realized he was required to install a home sprinkler system – which could cost upward of $15,000.

Just south of his neighborhood, located north of Harmony Road and west of Seeman Road, newly constructed homes in the Botterman Farms subdivision don’t have the same home sprinkler system requirements, even though they also fall in the Huntley Fire Protection District’s jurisdiction

The discrepancy in rules between two neighborhoods within the fire protection district’s boundaries has caused Harding, among other home builders, to question the fairness of an ordinance that only applies to subdivisions platted after 2005.

“Had we known about the sprinkler ordinance, we wouldn’t have bought that lot,” Harding said. 

Harding and a handful of other people who bought lots in the Willow Hill subdivision have asked the district to change the ordinance so homeowners can decide for themselves whether to install sprinkler systems in their new homes. 

However, Huntley Fire Protection District Chief Ken Caudle said the district’s board of trustees sees no compelling evidence to rescind or alter the ordinance. 

The residential sprinkler ordinance was adopted in August 2004, when the Huntley Fire Protection District was experiencing rapid growth, Caudle said. It was difficult to apply the ordinance evenly at first because of multiple residential building projects being in various states of development, he said. 

The board made a decision to apply the ordinance to projects and properties that were platted on May 1, 2005, or later, Caudle said. 

“While some may see this as unfair, the board felt it was the best way to apply the ordinance without disrupting projects that had already started,” Caudle said in an email.

Home sprinkler systems have a number of benefits, according to Caudle, the Northern Illinois Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board and the National Fire Protection Association. Sprinklers will extinguish a typical residential fire in less than a minute, and they dramatically improve survival rates, Caudle said. They also use a fraction of the water that fire department hoses do, he said. 

There were about 365,500 home structure fires nationwide in 2015 that claimed 2,560 lives, according to the NFPA. Overall, structure fires caused more than $10.3 billion in property damage. 

The risk of someone dying in his or her home is cut by about 80 percent when automatic fire sprinkler systems are present, according to an NFPA report.

But for Harding, home sprinkler systems bring more problems than benefits. Aside from the added cost sprinklers bring – including initial installation, maintenance and the added property tax values – sprinklers also are unsightly and could potentially go off when they’re not needed, Harding said. 

Karyn Pourchot and her husband, Rob, also have bought a lot in Willow Hill subdivision, and they have not yet started building. Karyn Pourchot said it was shocking to find out the sprinkler system would be required for her new home.

“It just really comes down to the fact that the ordinance is not executed fairly,” Karyn Pourchot said. “… If fire safety is truly the issue, why wouldn’t it be mandated for all?”

This isn’t the first time there has been a debate over whether home sprinkler systems should be mandated. 

In 2012, then-Illinois State Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis asked a General Assembly committee to impose a statewide mandate requiring sprinklers in new homes. The initiative failed and is not being pursued by the Illinois state fire marshal again. 

“The current state fire code does not require home sprinklers,” Illinois State Fire Marshal Matt Perez said in a statement. “There is no intention at this time of pursuing a change to require them. Local jurisdictions are best suited to decide if this requirement is right for their community.”

The village of Huntley mandated sprinklers for new homes in 2005, but it repealed the ordinance two years later over concerns regarding the costs and maintenance involved. 

The Huntley Fire Protection District’s jurisdiction does not include the village limits, Caudle said. The district covers more than 60,000 residents in Lake in the Hills, Algonquin, Hampshire, Gilberts and rural territories of Kane and McHenry counties, according to its website.

Several groups, including developers and real estate agents, have spoken out against requiring home sprinklers.

Conor Brown, government affairs director with Heartland Realtor Organization, said the McHenry County-based organization follows the Illinois Association of Realtors’ stance on home sprinklers. 

“We strongly believe it’s a consumer choice issue, and when it’s completely taken away, that becomes problematic,” Brown said. 

Tom Manning owns the Willow Hills subdivision. There are a total of 33 lots in the subdivision, and he has sold about 10 of them, he said. Manning said he wants the ordinance repealed so residents in his neighborhood will be treated just like everyone else. 

The ordinance also makes it harder to sell lots.

“It will slow us down, no doubt about that,” Manning said. “I just think it’s unfair.”

There are several empty lots for sale in the Botterman Farms subdivision, according to real estate sites.

The Botterman Farms subdivision was platted in April 2004, according to records on the McHenry County recorder’s website. However, the Willow Hill subdivision wasn’t platted until February 2006, records show, which is why the Huntley Fire Protection District sprinkler ordinance applies. 

Thomas Zanck, the attorney representing the group of homeowners fighting the ordinance with the Huntley Fire Protection District, has a suggested solution. He said the district should allocate funds to educate homeowners about home sprinkler systems.

“Then let the people decide as to whether they should have a sprinkler in their residence or not, instead of this unfair system they have where only new subdivisions are required to have sprinklers put in the new constructed homes,” Zanck said. 

The Huntley Fire Protection District Board of Trustees’ next meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at 11118 Main St., Huntley. Caudle said there is nothing regarding the sprinkler ordinance on the agenda as the board is not taking any action on it at this time. 

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