Starting Jan. 1, 2015, the three motels that call Brookfield home will have exactly one year to install fire sprinkler systems or face being shut down.
That’s because on Dec. 8 the Brookfield Village Board voted unanimously to adopt the International Code Council’s 2015 building code, which included an amendment of the village’s rules regarding fire sprinklers.
Under the new code, all new single-family and certain multi-family residential construction will require fire sprinkler systems. In addition, fire sprinklers will need to be added to existing residential buildings if owners construct an addition that increases the building’s gross square footage by 50 percent or more.
Sprinklers will also be required in some new commercial buildings and in existing commercial buildings greater than 12,000 square feet where a change of use requires their presence.
Finally, the new code mandates that all existing motels must be retrofitted with fire sprinklers within one year of the effective date of the new building code, which is Jan. 1. There are three such businesses in Brookfield: the Brookfield Motel, 8809 Ogden Ave.; the Pioneer Motel, 8835 Ogden Ave.; and the Colony Motel, 9232 Ogden Ave.
At least one person associated with one of the village’s motels said the new law looked suspiciously like an attempt to simply drive them out of town.
“It looks to me very partial at this point,” said Rashesh Shah, the son-in-law of the manager of the small, nine-unit Pioneer Motel. “We are barely breaking even. It’s such an expense that it’s like drafting a chart to close down these businesses.”
Shah wondered why multifamily apartment buildings and commercial operations such as auto shops were exempt from the retrofit decree.
“So a mechanic’s shop isn’t life safety? How about apartment buildings? They are residential, too,” Shah said.
Village Manager Keith Sbiral said that the purpose of adopting the new building code was not to shut down motels, but to provide builders with a modern code that was consistent and easily available.
“What I’m trying to do and what the board was trying to do by adopting this code is to make redevelopment as easy as possible and to take out as many barriers as possible,’ Sbiral said. “That’s my focus here.”
As for singling out motels for retrofitting for sprinklers, Sbiral said those businesses were different from apartment or condo buildings in terms of density and other factors.
“Is an apartment building or owner-occupied condo building the same fire risk as a hotel or an extended-stay motel?” Sbiral asked. “I don’t think so. There’s more density and more transience there. I think those factors differentiate the use.”
David Patel, the brother of the owner of the Colony Motel, complained that the village never notified motel owners of the impending code change; Sbiral confirmed that the village did not send motel owners any advance warning. Sbiral did say they would now receive notification of the new law.
“This is a big cost burden,” Patel said. “Smaller hoteliers can’t afford it. It’s not possible.”
Both Patel and Shah indicated they might seek legal action against the village to prevent the sprinkler mandate.
“Being small and outnumbered, we have to see how much noise we can produce,’ said Shah.
Sbiral said the village was on solid legal ground in adopting the new code.
“I don’t see what the grounds [to sue] would be,” Sbiral said.
The new law states that motel owners must provide a “compliance schedule” within 90 days of Jan. 1, 2015 and must complete the installation of sprinklers by Dec. 31, 2015. Failure to do so will result in fines or shutdown.