City Council passes bills to offer financial incentives for installing sprinklers in high-rises

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Last year's seven-alarm fire at the Marco Polo condominium resulted in the deaths of four people, making it the largest high-rise fire in Honolulu history and also spurring quick action by city officials.

Three bills were introduced at the Honolulu City Council to require sprinkler systems in older high-rise buildings. But on Wednesday, City Council members only passed two of the measures -- neither of which make installing sprinklers mandatory.

Instead, the two measures provide tax breaks and waived fees for high-rise property owners who elect to install sprinklers in their own units or pay a share for sprinkler systems in their building's hallways and other common areas.

Only owner occupants of condominiums and apartments will be eligible for the $2,000 property tax credit, which they'll have two years to file for.

A third measure which would have required common-area sprinkler systems in about 150 Oahu residential towers was held back in committee as the City Council's legal team reviews it.

The proposed safety regulation has been adamantly opposed by condo and apartment owners of those buildings who say the cost of mandating sprinkler installation would cause them to lose their homes.

Honolulu Fire Department officials estimate it would cost each individual property owner between $8- to $22,000 dollars to install sprinklers in an entire building, or between $5- to $10,000 if only common areas were retrofitted.

The push to require sprinkler systems came in the wake of the largest high-rise fire in Honolulu history last July. Three people were killed in the seven-alarm Marco Polo fire and a fourth later died at the hospital.

After an exhaustive investigation, fire officials say they're still unsure what caused the fire, which started on the 26th floor. But they say there was no indication it was intentionally set and there was no evidence of the presence of a drug lab.

Hundreds of units were destroyed in the blaze which caused $107 million in damage.

The 36-story Marco Polo high-rise didn't have a have a sprinkler system. If it had, officials said the fire would have been contained to one unit.

The Honolulu Fire Department estimates there are about 300 high-rise residential buildings on Oahu that don't have sprinkler systems.

Only those built after 1975 were required to install them.

HFD supports efforts to make them mandatory in all buildings regardless of cost.

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