It's a dilemma for every municipality in the country, large or small. Where do city officials draw the line between encouraging growth and adopting regulations to make sure new buildings and streets are well designed, safe and built to last?
Earlier this week, during the second in a series of informal discussion sessions on various issues called for by Mayor Glenn Jonagan, the Maryville City Council addressed just that issue.
Councilman Jeff Funston, who has considerable experience with infrastructure projects as a former employee of a local engineering firm, said conflicts have always arisen as Maryville seeks to strike a balance between the need for economic development and the need for housing, commercial structures, streets, curbs and gutters that "won't collapse after a few years."
As the discussion got underway, Code Enforcement Officer Jim Wiederholt provided some history about how and why the city's current building regulations came to be
Wiederholt said his office's top priority is the welfare of Maryville residents, adding that the current code book contains provisions designed to ensure "minimum standards for the life, safety and welfare of the community."
He said building codes were first adopted in Maryville around 1960 and last updated in 2006.
Like most small towns, Maryville's codes weren't written locally but are based on a set of comprehensive regulations established by the International Code Council, a non-profit organization that develops comprehensive, coordinated guidelines governing building safety, fire prevention and energy efficiency.
But just because a city buys an ICC code book and adopts its provisions doesn't mean it can't revise those standards to fit its own unique needs and goals. The Maryville City Council, Wiederholt said, has every right to amend, delete or add to building codes as it sees fit.
Councilman Jim Fall asked Wiederholt if there was a tendency for the ICC codes to become more stringent over time, thus driving up costs for builders.
Wiederholt said that can happen, but that revisions sometimes work the other way, as when the code was changed to allow for the use of plastic plumbing pipe instead of traditional — and much more expensive — copper tubing, once a staple of nearly all new construction.
In fact, he said, the introduction of new products, materials and techniques is one of the main reasons that the ICC issues a new code book every three years, meaning that Maryville codes are currently six years behind those set forth in the most recent edition.
City Manager Greg McDanel suggested during this week's discussion that it may be time for Maryville to start considering a code update. Jonagan urged that part of that process include an effort by the city to reach out to the local construction and real estate community to determine preferences and needs.
Page 2 of 2 - One sticking point that has come up several times in recent years, for example, is a requirement for sprinkler systems in multi-unit housing developments.
Some local developers have maintained incorporating sprinklers makes such housing too expensive. They also point out that, sprinkled or not, new housing is much safer than the aging rental properties that characterize much of central Maryville, especially near Northwest Missouri State University.
Phil Rickabaugh, Maryville Public Safety's fire division supervisor, is an advocate of sprinklers, and noted that such systems, along with improved building materials, have made a "dramatic difference" in terms of the number of structures damaged or destroyed by fire.
And therein lies the conflict as City Hall moves toward an eventual code update.
Where is an acceptable line between the safest buildings and the fastest growth?
"That's the problem." Jonagan said. "You want to accommodate, but you also have to have certain standards."