The Morristown City Council appears poised to spend approximately $300,000 in Community Development Block Grant funds to install the plumbing that will allow fire-suppression sprinklers in the second and higher floors in downtown buildings.
Councilmembers once envisioned performing all the work and earmarked approximately $160,000 in CDBG money, which Morristown receives from the federal government as an annual entitlement. A more detailed estimate came in close to $300,000.
A majority of councilmembers on Tuesday resolved to conduct the improvements in two phases. The plan is to first install the new water lines to buildings on the north side of Main Street. Morristown Mayor Gary Chesney says that proposal isn’t written in stone, and councilmembers could direct the initial round of funds to the side that shows the most promise.
Downtown property owners Chris Harville, owner of East Tennessee Diamond, and Randy Debord, a Hamblen County Commissioner who owns McFarland Pharmacy, told councilmembers they would develop their properties into high-end rental units if they could get sprinkler service.
One man whose office is downtown, said he would consider buying his building if were possible to transform part of the structure into rental property.
The sprinkler service would also be available to buildings owned by Ken Smith, a city councilmember. When probed, Smith said he would consider residential development of his buildings, but he currently has another project that’s monopolizing his time and financial resources.
Building codes provide that all apartments and gathering places like restaurants and bars must have fire-suppression sprinklers.
Under the plan, city government would extend the water to the rear of downtown buildings. The property owners would be responsible for bringing water service to their building and installing the sprinklers.
Councilmembers are not unanimous on the issue. Councilmembers Bob Garrett and Chris Bivens have strong reservations.
Garrett says water for sprinklers is available at the front of the buildings and nobody is taking advantage of it. Garrett says the high cost of installing fire-suppression systems will make rents unaffordable. He maintains that after city government spends the $300,000, it’s likely no new development will occur.
Installing sprinklers at the front of buildings would mean significant portions of Main Street would have to be excavated, which would disrupt traffic and business for a long time.