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Town fire codes tweaked

Citing a recent fire at Aspen Square as a business prepared for its grand opening, Farragut town officials look to close a “gap” in fire code inspection procedures.

“This is just to try to close that little gap because we don’t do electrical inspections and we don’t have an electrical code, per se, that would deal with this …,” said Ruth Hawk, town community development director, during a workshop session at the Farragut Municipal Planning Commission meeting Thursday, Nov. 3.

“Changing the ordinance is pretty simple. Make the ordinance read that you take all of the sign supporting hardware, that is all of the hardware out that serves to support the sign and disconnect and de-energize all of the electrical,” Chairman Robert M. Hill said. “I would have thought the building code, which incorporates the electric code, would have covered that anyway.”

Hill added that town staff thought such amended language should be added to the ordinance, “So that it was clear to the sign owner who’s removing the sign, that he’s got to know to not take it down but he’s got to remove and de-energize the electric service.”

Hill said the town has never adopted the electrical code because “we’d have to have an electrical inspector, and we don’t have one. We use L-C-U-B.”

Hawk added, “Dan Johnson, our fire marshal, requested this amendment so that he would have the authority when he goes in and notices a problem that he can [point to] the town ordinance.”

Asked by Hill if Johnson currently had the power to stop work, Hawk said she wasn’t certain of his authority.

“We had a fire when Bradford Jewelers moved out, they had left some live wires around and after the subsequent business moved in, they were getting ready for their grand opening, they had a fire,” Hawk said. “We would just like to add that wording in this section dealing with that so that we have the authority to go in and require that taken care of.”


Meanwhile, the workshop session included a change of setbacks consideration for property retaining walls.

Current town ordinance 86-16 stipulates that retaining walls be built “ten feet from the nearest right-of-way,” a length attorney Robert Leonard sought to reduce by having the ordinance amended so the slope angle of his clients’ yards can be made less steep.

Leonard’s proposed amendment to 86-16 reads in part, “… except there is no such requirement as to retaining walls lying entirely within new developments not yet completed. …”

Representing Pinnacle Management/Chapel Grove condominiums, Leonard said they want “the opportunity to have a much nicer, much more practical condominium development. As I approach my eighty-first birthday, I am very interested in having level spaces in which to walk.”

Hawk pointed out that many property owners, “whether it be a commercial entity or a residential entity, they may not be aware that if there is a retaining wall on their property that is in an easement, that a utility can come in and remove it and it would be still their responsibility to put it back.”

Hill said he is against changing the ordinance if “unsuspecting homeowners” suddenly found out that they’d be charged for expenses if a retaining wall — “moved out” as Leonard requests — had to be removed and rebuilt due to construction on a utility easement.

Hill said the town should get utilities “to sign that they accept the retaining wall in their easement, and they’ll accept responsibility for replacing it or any damage occurring to it in the course or repairing a line that’s in the easement.”

Otherwise, Hill added that homeowners “will never understand why they’re in there digging on his land and tearing up the retaining wall and he gets the bill for it. That’s what worries me.”

Also, Hill said he is reluctant to change the ordinance “because it changes everybody’s ordinance everywhere in town.”

Hawk added in summarizing the options if the retaining walls are moved closer to roads and into easements, “that its the whole homeowners association,” as opposed to only those specific families whose units are directly affected, who will be responsible if the retaining wall is moved.

As an alternative to retaining walls, Hill said he had been advised that property owners could re-grade the property from a 3-to-1 slope (three feet out for every one foot up) to a 2-to-1 slope, leveling out a yard area for the condos.

Hawk said that changing slope would require no ordinance amendments or changes, only that “we want to make sure it’s stabilized before the final plat is approved.”

On Leonard’s request, further consideration on retaining wall issue was postponed until the Nov. 17 FMPC workshop.


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