City won't permit occupancy of new lakefront home because it's not sprinklered

  • Published in Local News
LACONIA — The owner of a $1 million new home on Wentworth Cove Road has filed suit against the city for denying an occupancy permit because the home does not have a sprinkler system.
John D. and Jacqueline Remington of Naples, Florida say the city erred in the denial because state law RSA 674:51-V says no municipality can enact "any ordinance, regulation code or administrative practice" that requires the installation of automatic fire suppression systems in any new or existing one- or two-family homes.
According to the suit, the state law that was passed in July of 2011 negates any local requirement that the Remingtons must install the system in their home on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Minutes of the Zoning Board of Adjustments said the appeal was filed after the Laconia Fire Department denied its portion of the certificate of occupancy application on September 19, 2012. The appeal of the decision went to the Zoning Board of Appeals because the city has no active City Building Code of Appeals and the fire chief and city manager denied the Remingtons a waiver.
According to attorney Rod Dyer, who represented the Remingtons at the ZBA, after not getting the waiver, an intern with his law firm (Wescott, Dyer, Fitzgerald and Nichols) researched the matter and learned the state law changed in 2012. He also noted there have been two decisions by the N.H. Legislature that sprinklers cannot be required on single family detached home.
Minutes of the ZBA meeting reflect the building permit was obtained in 2008 and contained a provision that sprinklers be installed. The builder told the ZBA he only saw the part of the permit that was nailed to the property and the actual permit went to the Remingtons in Florida.
He said the yellow or local copy didn't have the sprinkler condition listed and he never saw the addendum that went to Florida. When asked by ZBA member Steve Bogert if he should have asked the owner about any addenda, Cartier said he goes by what's on the inspection sheet and nothing about a sprinkler system was listed.
The builder told the board that construction began in 2009 and, when asked, reiterated he never saw the original permit. When asked if the city gave all of the building permit information to the owner, Dyer said it had.
Cartier also told the board that the Fire Department did one inspection and didn't say anything about the sprinkler system and all of the other inspections were done. He said former Code Enforcement Officer Jim VanValkenburgh did the inspection before he "buttoned-up" the site, and told him he was okay. He said nothing was mentioned about sprinkers.
Town Attorney Laura Spector-Morgan told the Planning Department that the almost 6,000-square-foot house should have been built to the codes that were in place when the building permit was granted, which requires homes over 3,000-square-feet in area to be sprinklered.
After the public hearing, members of the ZBA discussed the waiver and agreed the fire chief was right in denying the waiver because it is the home owner's responsibility to build a building to the codes as they existed when construction began.
Attorney Paul Fitzgerald filed the actual suit in Belknap County on March 18. As of Tuesday, the city had not filed a response.