Excessively strict building codes are being cited as the reason a plan for senior housing at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital's Berteau Campus recently fell through.
Belmont Village, a company that has developed senior housing facilities in Glenview and Oak Park, was interested in the 11-acre site on Berteau Avenue that will soon be vacated by Elmhurst Memorial Hospital. The developer wanted to use multiple layers of drywall with metal supports in building the new facility.
But according to Assistant City Manager Mike Kopp, city code mandates that multi-unit buildings, such as condominiums, hotels and dorms, have concrete block support every 1,200 to 1,500 square feet, allowing the units to withstand two hours of fire.
On Monday, the Development, Planning and Zoning Committee began considering whether the city's code needs to be loosened.
Elmhurst has one of the strictest codes in the area when it comes to interior building construction for fire safety. The concrete-block specification puts the city's requirements beyond those outlined by the International Building Code, which forms the basis for building mandates in most suburbs.
“We want to be safe,” Mayor Pete DiCianni told the committee. “But we don't want to be so tough that we discourage development.
Kopp, who is Elmhurst's former fire chief, acknowledged that the city's code in essence required both “belt and suspenders.” But, he added that the city's building and fire departments have historically worked together to ensure structures not only resist fire but also maintain integrity as long as possible to allow firefighters to do their job.
Kopp added that Elmhurst's stricter code did not affect how buildings look from the outside.
Initial research done by city staff shows that some suburbs had codes as strict as Elmhurst's, but have updated them in recent years, often to allow developers more flexibility.
The committee will ask an outside consultant to review the city's building codes and complete a more detailed comparison with neighboring towns.
“These are life and death decisions,” said Second Ward Alderman Norman Leader.
Committee Chairman and 6th Ward Alderman Steve Morley said he wondered, in the event that the city could justify keeping the codes in place, if trade-offs or tax relief for developers could be considered.
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