ESD Board hears code enforcement concerns

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Business owners whose appeal to an appointed Fire Code Appeals Board was denied in March asked Emergency Services Commissioners Monday to reconsider the decision.

Monty and Shawn Oehrlein, owners of Shooting Star Ranch, told commissioners of Williamson County Emergency Services District #4 that they believe they weren’t treated fairly in the appeals process and requested a new hearing.

The Oehrleins and several of their supporters spoke to commissioners during the public comments of their regular board meeting. The commissioners did not respond as is customary for the public comments portion of the agenda.

At issue is whether the two-story venue in a renovated barn should be required to have a sprinkler system, and that decision hinged on the final determination of Fire Marshal Keeling Neves of the facility’s occupancy classification as A2. The Oehrleins believe their facility was misclassified, and say that meeting the A2 requirements would be cost-prohibitive.

On March 14, volunteers appointed to an Appeals Board sided with the Fire Marshal.

Shawn Oehrlein said the process wasn’t fair in that they were given eight days notice of the hearing — not enough time, she said, “to get professionals to speak to these people and address this.” She added that a packet prepared by department staff and provided to appeals board members in advance of the hearing “excluded the part of the code that talked about classification,” which was the primary point of contention.

Oehrlein said she spoke with County Commissioner Cynthia Long, who said the ESD Board “has the ability for us to have a retrial of this board, a rehearing. This is our business and our livelihood,” Oehrlein said. “You people are the ones in charge. Do we not want small owned businesses here?”

“This is not about the men and women in this department,” said Cathy Riedel, an attorney who lives near the venue. “No one here wants to be in an unsafe building and no one wants to put these men and women (firefighters) at risk. This has been a sleepy board and in a small community that’s growing rapidly. Then this Fire Marshal comes in who has been hired by the county. Who does the Fire Marshal answer to? Ultimately, it comes down to the Chief, but we’re hearing in the community about some arbitrary and capricious findings. No one wants to be in an unsafe place, but none of you as business people would have liked the due process that has come about to this point.”

Mary Spradlin, owner of Lone Star Oaks — a wedding venue scheduled for an October opening — said “there’s been a lot of what we consider to be overreach and over classification.”

She said after speaking with “fire suppression companies, alarm companies, engineers, even spoken with state fire marshal, and they assured me we would be considered an A3,” she said, adding that Lone Star Oaks is no different from Shooting Star Ranch.

We’re just like a community center,” she said. “We’re simply renting a building. We have no kitchen, we store nor sell no alcohol. You’re simply going to come and rent a room, and we, like Shawn, should be considered an A3 and not have to put in the expense of a fire suppression system.

“We want to do what we have to do to be safe, but at some point enough is enough. Y’all have the power to help make this happen for small businesses trying to come into this community,” Spradlin said.

In other business Monday, the ESD Board approved the Treasurer’s Report the quarterly investment report for the second quarter of the fiscal year, and approved a contract with a company for the liquidation of surplus property. The company charges 10 percent commission to sell the department’s surplus property.

The Board also heard an update on construction at Fire Station #2, which is scheduled to be released to the department on May 15.

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