CLINTON — A disagreement about how a ceiling should look and at the same time protect residents living in the Armstrong building has led the Clinton Fire and Housing Board of Appeals to deny a complaint filed by the developers who are behind its renovation.

The board of appeals on Thursday heard a petition from Sam Erickson, vice president of Community Housing Initiatives, which is overseeing the renovation of the Armstrong building into 14 affordable apartments in the building’s upper floors.

The point of contention is the second-floor ceiling. CHI, its architect and Armstrong Apartments LP, the building’s owners, want to keep the floor joists exposed so those who live in the second-floor apartments will have the feeling of being in a warehouse, something developers said provides an atmosphere similar to the building’s use many years ago.

But Clinton Fire Marshal Mike Brown said the the floor would not provide a one-hour fire rating, something he said is very important should fire break out in a very old building full of residents. The plan as presented by CHI is predicted to have a 30-minute, or possibly a 45-minute, fire rating.

Brown said his fire rating requirement is based on the 1997 uniform fire code adopted by the city.

Erickson countered that the Iowa Financing Authority program, which provides money in the form of a low-income housing tax credit, is a widely accepted program in the state and that the project also is tied to state and federal funding through historic tax credits. She said the goal of the program is to protect the history of buildings and the heavy timber construction in the Armstrong building is very unique.

“This is the historic fabric of the building,” she said.

The architectural firm working with the building based its work on the 2003 International Building Code and the 2003 International Existing Building Code. Flexibility is to be maintained when it comes to renovating historical buildings, the petitioners maintained.

“You can’t expect an old building to act like a new one,” said Erickson, who added that the building will have sprinklers and a fire alarm system that will tell firefighters exactly where a fire is located should one break out.

But Brown said the local code supercedes any other code, and under the local code, floor assemblies have to have a one-hour fire rating. He said that requirement not only protects residents, but firefighters should they be called to fight a fire there.

“One-hour ratings are critical for us,” Brown said.

Ward 2 Clinton City Councilman Mike Kearney, who is the resident manager of the Van Allen and Howes buildings that also were renovated by CHI, said the Armstrong building will be very safe and that those are the only three apartment buildings in town to have a full sprinkler system.

Clinton Fire Chief Mark Regenwether said officials are handcuffed by the lack of a building code and can’t require upgrades, such as full sprinkler systems, to older structures. He pointed out that because the city does not have a building code, the fire code is one way officials can make sure changes are made during new renovation and construction work that will safen structures in the city.

CHI’s architect agreed that a building code would have made the process easier and that there is a need for Clinton to have a person whose job it is to review plans and processes and how they fit into the code.

Matt Fullerton, chairman of the housing board of appeals, said he felt the board did not have the authority to make an exception to the code to support CHI’s request. After the board unanimously voted to deny it, Fullerton told Erickson that if it is determined the housing board has such authority he is willing to reconsider it and that CHI can bring the request to the Clinton City Council for consideration.

This Week's Circulars