Sourcing Information on “Fire Prevention Law Not Being Followed in East Lansing”

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018, 5:59 pm
Alice Dreger

This page provides sourcing information related to the article Fire Prevention Law Not Being Followed in East Lansing, with hotlinks for material that is open access. We provide sourcing information here in roughly the same order as material is presented in the article.

City Council has not updated the City’s Code of Ordinances on the Fire Prevention Code since 2001. The City of East Lansing’s Code of Ordinances (hereafter referred to as CoEL Code) Chapter 16 (Fire Prevention and Protection), Section 16.31 (Adoption of code by reference) indicates adoption of “the NFPA Fire Protection Code, being NFPA 1, 2000 edition, and the NFPA Life Safety Code, being NFPA 101, 2000 edition, as published by the National Fire Protection Association, Inc.” The reference in this section is to East Lansing Ordinance 978, indicating it was adopted by City Council on August 21, 2001.

There have been six newer editions of the NFPA codes published since 2000. NFPA 1 has gone through the following editions since 2000: 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018. The NFPA Life Safety Code, known as NFPA 101, has gone through the following editions since 2000: 2003, 2006, 2009, 2012, 2015, 2018.

Carter has not responded to questions from ELi about which code(s) he is using and on what legal basis. City Manager George Lahanas has also not responded. Emails on these particulars were sent September 12 and 13, 2018. The only responses being received to our emails are from a hired spokesperson who continues to tell ELi answers to our questions on this matter will be forthcoming.

According to the City’s laws on site plan approval, review by a fire official is required before an initial site plan proposal comes to Planning Commission. CoEL Code Section 50-36 (Site plan approval) subsection (f)(1) indicates “The planning and zoning official shall transmit copies of the site plan application materials to other departments and agencies which have review or operational responsibilities relevant to the proposal. Written reports on the proposal from the departments and agencies shall be submitted to the planning and zoning official within eight working days of their receipt of the site plan materials.” Subsection (6)(3) indicates that, for the Planning Commission public hearing for a project, the City’s planning and zoning official will make a “report…available to the public at the public hearing” and that “The report shall include: … (3) The reports received from other departments and agencies.” The Fire Department is one of the agencies charged with review.

The City’s flowchart capturing this section of the law shows that the reviews include fire review. Additionally, NFPA 1 indicates that the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) for the ELFD, i.e., the person designated as the Fire Marshal by the ELFD Chief, is charged with the responsibility of “review[ing] of construction plans, drawings, and applications for the safety systems, the protection systems, access, water supplies, processes, hazardous materials, and other fire and life safety issues.” (1.1.1 (3)).

Further review is required when floor plans change substantially. In practice, the current Fire Marshal’s communications to Planning staff generally indicate that he wants to see and review updated plans when plans change. This approach is consistent with NFPA 1, which indicates in, “Any addition or alteration of approved plans or specifications shall be approved in advance by the AHJ, as evidenced by the issuance of a new or amended permit.”

Substantial changes to floor plans happened (at least) twice with the Center City District proposal. The initial site application was presented to the CoEL Planning Commission on March 8, 2017. For the original floor plans for apartments of the Grand River Avenue building, see page 6 of the submitted “architectural drawings” PDF, and for the revised floor plans for the Grand River Avenue apartments as voted on by Planning Commission on April 26, 2017, see page four of this PDF. To see a list of the substantial additional design changes that occurred after Planning Commission’s work, see this memo contained in the agenda packet of Council on the day Council voted to approve the project, i.e., June 20, 2017.

NFPA code requires that records be kept of all fire official reviews on projects. “A record of examinations, approvals, equivalencies, and alternatives shall be maintained by the AHJ and shall be available for public inspection during business hours in accordance with applicable laws.” (NFPA 1, 1.11.1) In this case, “applicable law” would seem to be East Lansing’s law that states this is the fire code to be followed. (There is no exception to record-keeping for fire reviews in East Lansing’s Code.)

The City needed three full weeks to locate the design plans for the $132 million project underway. The City Clerk’s office required three weeks (the maximum allowed by law) to respond to ELi’s FOIA request 18-90, which asked for Exhibit C of the Center City District Master Development Agreement, namely “general design plans for Buildings A1 [the Target store being built on Grand River Avenue], A2 [the apartments above that store], B1 [the retail space being built along Albert Avenue] and B3 [the senior apartments being built above the new parking garage under construction on Albert Avenue].” According to the signed Master Development Agreement, these documents “are on file in the Planning, Building and Development Department,” but staff apparently could not locate them without a FOIA request and the maximum three weeks allowed by law to answer that request.

Lahanas has not responded to questions. Questions on this matter have been sent to him by email on August 18 (asking why there was no fire safety review in the Planning and Council packets for the Center City District project), September 12 (asking him to explain the discrepancies between his claims and the NFPA code adopted by the City), and September 13 (about the outdated Code and where records are available for review). Additional questions were raised during public comment of the August 21 City Council meeting, but Lahanas also did not respond there. Lahanas’s only communication to ELi on this matter has been his letter of September 6, 2018, which responds generally to our reporting, not to numerous specific questions put to him on this matter.

The City has taken an extension of ELi’s FOIA request on fire reviews for the Center City District project, and is now asking $1,244.14 to fulfill the request. This is the City Clerk’s response to FOIA request 18-109. © 2013-2020 East Lansing Info