Council may approve law to install fire sprinklers

An ordinance requiring the installation of fire sprinklers in Greek houses may receive final approval from Evanston City Council tonight.

The ordinance, introduced on Oct. 25, would require dorms, hospitals, fraternities and sororities, among other categories of buildings, to install sprinkler systems within five years.

The law has been held up in the council due to concerns about the appeals process set out in the original draft, which would have allowed property owners to appeal the sprinkler requirement on financial or other grounds.

Aldermen asked the city staff to remove the appeals process entirely at the Nov. 8 meeting, calling the process unnecessary and in need of clearer standards.

“It was just a crazy kind of situation,” said Ald. Steven Bernstein (4th), adding that the language was so vague that it could have raised constitutional issues.

If passed, the ordinance would be the only law requiring sprinklers in Greek facilities. A state law passed in August exempted Greek houses, and Northwestern cannot force Greek chapters to install sprinklers under the terms of the chapters’ current leases.

Several chapters are in the process of renegotiating their leases, which could transfer responsibility for building maintenance to NU.

Greek leaders have expressed concerns that the city ordinance could force chapters to finance the sprinkler installation before the new leases take effect.

Bernstein said he expects the ordinance to pass tonight, assuming the changes recommended by the aldermen have been made.

The ordinance must be approved by the council’s Planning and Development Committee before being considered by the full council.

The committee will meet at 7 p.m., and the full council will convene at 8:30 p.m. Both meetings will be held at the Evanston Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

–Michael Beder