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'Onerous' Fire Sprinklers Mandate Leads Aldermen to Call for City Hearing

By  Benjamin Woodard and Adeshina Emmanuel | July 26, 2013 6:48am 

 The state fire marshal wants fire sprinklers in all Chicago high rises.
High-rise Fire Sprinklers
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UPTOWN — Nearly every Chicago alderman wants to grill state Fire Marshal Larry Matkaitis on new fire safety rules he proposed requiring that all Chicago high-rises — regardless of age — install fire sprinkler systems.

This week, 48 aldermen sponsored a resolution to have Matkaitis "present justification for adoption of such onerous and expensive regulations."

The resolution accuses the fire marshal of "overextending" his authority and bypassing the state Legislature by introducing the rule change into the state's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.

"We're delighted," said Sheli Lulkin, president of a coalition of condo buildings on Sheridan Road that has been fighting the sprinklers idea since it was introduced late last month.

Lulkin said she expects the city hearing to take place next month.

Condo owners said many people would lose their homes if forced to pay for fire sprinklers.

But officials contend the new rules would save lives.

Still, nearly all elected officials in Chicago whose constituents live in old high-rises oppose the changes.

Even the Chicago Fire Department said the mandate would be unreasonable.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy and 39 of her colleagues signed a resolution of their own chastising the marshal for pursuing rules that place "an undue burden" on residents.

Ald. James Cappleman (46th) said in a newsletter to constituents Wednesday that "the hundreds of millions of dollars that condo owners and apartment building owners will have to spend on this new initiative ... means that this is not a policy that makes sense."

He said he expected thousands of people in the 46th Ward "to lose their homes because they would not be able to afford the special assessments and raised rents that would have to occur to pay for this unfunded mandate."

Cappleman, Cassidy, Ald. Joe Moore (49th), Ald. Harry Osterman (48th), state Rep. Greg Harris and state Sen. Heather Steans are scheduled to hold a town hall meeting to discuss the proposal at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Loyola University's Cuneo Hall on its lakeshore campus.

The meeting will also be streamed on Cassidy's YouTube channel.

Cappleman said he would be at a public hearing about the sprinkler mandate in Springfield on Aug. 6.

He asked residents in the 46th Ward, which includes most of Uptown and a small part of Lakeview, to write letters to the Illinois Legislature's Joint Committee on Administrative Rules.