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Downers Grove changes building code to allow wood construction

DOWNERS GROVE – The Downers Grove Village Council has approved building code changes that will allow structures anywhere in the village to be built with wood.

The changes, which were approved at the council’s Oct. 20 meeting, would allow Type III construction in all zoning districts of the village, which would allow builders to use treated wood instead of steel or concrete. The changes also would require wood trusses and joists to have a one-hour fire rating.

The changes are part of a village priority to review the building development and permitting process in an effort to make the village more business-friendly, according to Alex Pellicano, the village’s building division manager.

The village’s code is based on the International Building Code, but includes local amendments that are more strict than the standard code.

In addition to allowing Type III construction, the building code changes also include exempting open parking garages from high-rise fire protection measures and requiring sprinklers for utility structures only if they are more than 5,000 square feet.

Village Manager Dave Fieldman said the new building code changes make Downers Grove “business friendly and safe,” and still require high-quality construction in the village.

Fieldman said the code is less restrictive than what it had been, but still more strict than what the International Building Code calls for.

He said the Downers Grove Fire Department and the village’s Fire Prevention Bureau have reviewed the code amendments from the beginning and are “very comfortable with these changes.”

Commissioner William Waldack said he had “serious concerns” about the building code changes, specifically that wood structures would be more susceptible to fire damage. He said the village is putting resident safety up against the profits of potential developers.

“I don’t want to put profits ahead of safety,” he said.

Tully said emphatically the village is not seeking profits over the safety of the residents of the village.

“I’m not a fan of making policy through fearmongering, and I don’t want that to be a trend that we begin,” he said.

Waldack said he was speaking from experience in his concerns.

“It isn’t fearmongering. It’s serious consideration,” Waldack said. “It’s a downgrade [in quality].”

Waldack said he experienced a death in a building fire and the construction type helped to limit the spread of the fire.

Commissioner Bill White said he did research and found a cross-laminated timber with greater rigidity that slows charring is set to be added to the International Building Code in the near future. He hoped to have the council add something like it to its code.

Commissioner David Olsen said they should explore the new wood with some immediacy, but he felt comfortable moving forward with the proposal.

The amendments to the code were approved 5-2, with Waldack and White voting against the amendments. The new changes will go into effect Dec. 1.

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