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Charles County government updated its building code Tuesday to comply with new international standards for 2012, including adopting new rules for energy efficiency. But a building industry trade group asked the county commissioners to help lobby Annapolis to allow county governments to exempt developers from some of the efficiency rules.

As required by state government, Charles County adopted the bulk of the International Building Code 2012 and the International Residential Building Code 2012 as the Charles County Building Code. Spurred by the Maryland-National Capital Building Industry Association, the commissioners promised to consider pushing the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to allow builders to substitute their own conservation measures for the ones mandated in the newest International Energy Conservation Code.

Commissioner Debra M. Davis (D) was reluctant to update the code, which technically was due July 1, without that commitment because she was concerned that developers’ voices had not been heard, she said. She suggested postponing the decision to give county’s Planning and Growth Management staff more time to reply to BIA’s comments.

“I would feel better if there was some response to the response,” Davis said.

The changes BIA seeks have to come from a state government that has seemed reluctant to budge on the issue, tying his hands, said Frank Ward, chief of codes, permits and inspections. Ward also expressed doubt that changes suggested by BIA for insulation and other rules would save as much energy as the international code rules would.

“Yes, there is a cost associated with it. I’m not going to argue with BIA’s $5,700 [figure] for the added cost to a home. What I am going to say is we’ve had very interesting energy-efficient homes built in the Waldorf area,” and consumers are interested in conservation, Ward said.

Commissioners’ President Candice Quinn Kelly (D) urged the board to finalize the already overdue “lengthy process,” and Davis agreed after hearing from BIA Southern Maryland committee member Douglas W. Meeker, who said he was satisfied with his interactions with county staffers.

“We have been working on the state level, with the Maryland Codes Administration, on what we feel were energy-neutral amendments to IECC,” said Meeker, who is also vice president in charge of Charles County for Elm Street Development, a homebuilder. Responding to Ward’s skepticism, Meeker said BIA’s proposed changes, including flexibility in the placement of home insulation, would be as effective as the new standards but would be cheaper to build.

The change was enacted 4-0, with Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) absent.

Kelly praised a separate county standard requiring fire sprinkler systems in new homes, crediting hers with saving her home. Some counties have resisted enacting the rule for rural homes without public water access, Ward said, but the systems save lives by waking sleeping occupants and slowing house fires’ spread.

“I just think it’s important to note I have a well, so we both [Davis and Kelly] have had fires recently. I had a pretty serious fire in my home. Had I not been able to douse it, there’s no question my house would have gone up in flames,” Kelly said.

The measure, enacted in 2006, adds about $1.75 per square foot to the cost of a new home, Ward said.

Medical parking requirement reduced

The board unanimously reduced the number of parking spaces required at medical office buildings, following the recommendation of developers and a couple of local doctors. The change scrapped a complicated formula for allotting spaces, based on the number of exam rooms and employees, replacing it with a requirement of 5.5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area.

County, La Plata swap roads

Charles County government and the town of La Plata traded responsibility for some La Plata roads, with the town assuming responsibility for a total of a mile along Scroggins Street, Lee Street, Glen Albin Road and Oak Avenue within the town limits. In return, the county assumed responsibility for a quarter of a mile of Baltimore and Church streets within the courthouse complex. The change will be cheaper for both local governments, according to county and town staffers.