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AGLO 1980 No. 1 - January 09, 1980
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COUNTIES ‑- CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- BUILDING ‑- FIRE ‑- PLATTING AND SUBDIVISIONS ‑- COMPLIANCE WITH ACCESS REQUIRIEMENTS OF UNFORM FIRE CODE

Explanation of the interrelationship between § 13.208 of the Uniform Fire Code, 1976 Edition, and the platting of subdivisions or short subdivisions under chapter 58.17 RCW and/or a local short subdivision ordinance; consideration of the respective roles of the original subdivider and subsequent purchasers of building lots in achieving compliance with the access requirements of § 13.208 of the Uniform Fire Code.

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                                                                  January 9, 1980

Honorable Carol Monohon
State Rep., 19th District
Rt. 1, Box 136
Raymond, Washington 98577                                                                                                                 Cite as:  AGLO 1980 No. 1

Dear Representative Monohon:

            By recent letter you made reference to a certain provision in the Uniform Fire Code, 1976 Edition, adopted by reference for all counties and cities pursuant to RCW 19.27.030.  You then requested our opinion on the following questions:

            "(1) If the owner of land wishes to subdivide or short subdivide land for residential purposes after the 1976 Uniform Fire Code became effective, does the owner have to provide the access roadway provided for in § 13.208 before the lots may be sold?  In other words, does § 13.208 affect the mandatory subdivision or short subdivision requirements, and essentially 'amend' by implication the mandatory provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

"(2) If new lots are created through the subdivision, or short subdivision, process after the 1976 Uniform Fire Code became effective and individual lots are sold, does a purchaser of an individual lot who builds a single home on his lot have to provide the access roadway provided for in § 13.208?

            "(3) Ifnew lots are created through the subdivision, or short subdivision, process after the 1976 Uniform Fire Code became effective and the person who divides the land constructs homes on the lots and then sells the lots and homes, does the person who divides the land have to provide the access roadway provided for in § 13.208?

            "(4) If lots which were created through the subdivision, or short subdivision, process prior to the time the 1976 Uniform Fire Code became effective were not sold until after the date the 1976 Uniform Fire Code became effective:  (a) do the purchasers of the individual lots have to provide the access roadway provided for in § 13.208?  (b) does the person who divided the land have to build the access roadway provided for in § 13.208 before any more lots are sold?"

            We respond to the foregoing questions in the manner set forth below.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 19.27.030 provides, in pertinent part, that:

            "There shall be in effect in all cities, towns and counties of the state a state building code which shall consist of the following codes which are hereby adopted by reference:

            ". . .

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

"(3) The Uniform Fire Code with appendices thereto, 1976 edition, published by the International Conference of Building Officials and the Western Fire Chiefs Association;

            ". . ."

            Section 13.208 of the Uniform Fire Code, 1976 Edition, to which reference is made in your letter, reads, in turn, as follows:

            "(a) Every building hereafter constructed shall be accessible to fire department apparatus by way of access roadways with all-weather driving surface of not less than 20 feet of unobstructed width, with adequate roadway turning radius capable of supporting the imposed loads of fire apparatus and having a minimum of 13 feet, 6 inches of vertical clearance.

                        "EXCEPTION:  When there are not more than two Group R, Division l or M Occupancies as defined in the Building Code, the requirement of this Section may be modified when, in the opinion of the Chief, fire‑fighting or rescue operations would not be impaired.

            "(b) The required width of access roadways shall not be obstructed in any manner, including parking of vehicles, 'NO PARKING' signs and/or other appropriate notice prohibiting obstructions may be required and shall be maintained.

            "(c) The access roadway shall be extended to within 150 feet of all portions of the exterior walls of the first story of any building.  Where the access roadway cannot be provided, approved fire protection system or systems shall be provided as required and approved by the Chief.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

"(d) Where fire protection systems approved by the Chief are provided, the above required clearances may be modified.

            "(e) The Chief shall have the authority to require an increase in the minimum access widths where such width is not adequate for fire or rescue operations."

            You earlier asked us to explain the interrelationship between the foregoing section of the Uniform Fire Code and ". . . local subdivision and short subdivision requirements . . ." under chapter 58.17 RCW.  By letter dated November 8, 1979, we replied saying, in material part:

            ". . . Both zoning and platting involve, in essence, the uses which may be made of particular land.  Thus, for example, by zoning a given area for single family residential dwellings, a board of county commissioners or city council (as the case may be) makes it legally possible for that area to be developed as a platted real estate subdivision.  And then, by approving either a plat or a short plat of land within the area so zoned, either pursuant to chapter 58.17 RCW or the county or city short subdivision ordinance, the commissioners or council allow the area to be divided into specified land units for the purpose of sale or lease.

            "Neither of those land use related actions, however, by themselves, address the further question of what kinds of structures may be constructed within the area or in what manner those structures shall be accessible to such things as fire department apparatus.  Those kinds of questions, instead, remain dependent upon the applicable provisions of the state building code including (in this case) the Uniform Fire Code and, specifically, § 13.208, supra.  And, by virtue of chapter 19.27 RCW, that code is applicable within all counties and cities in the state of Washington except to the limited extent that it may be modified by local authority under RCW 19.27.040."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Bearing this previous explanation in mind, and assuming no material modification of § 13.208,supra, by local authority under RCW 19.27.040, we would answer your present questions as follows:

            Question (1):

            Neither RCW 19.27.030 nor § 13.208 of the Uniform Fire Code, supra, amend by implication the provisions of chapter 58.17 RCW regarding the establishment of subdivisions or short subdivisions.  The basic reason for this conclusion is that, as we earlier indicated, the state building code (of which the Uniform Fire Code is a part) and the platting and subdivision law relate to two different subjects.  The real question, however, is whether either the original subdivider or later purchasers of lots within the subdivision (or short subdivision) must comply with § 13.208 of the Uniform Fire Code, supra, in connection with the construction of any buildings on those lots.  And our answer to that question necessarily is in the affirmative because that section of the Uniform Fire Code, in essence, requires any buildings constructed after its adoption by the legislature to be in compliance with the access requirements stated therein.

            Questions (2) and (3):

            In response to these two questions, it would seem to us that initial responsibility for compliance with § 13.208, supra, rests with the subdivider, at least in the case of subdivisions established after the effective date of the Fire Code amendments.  Specifically, we note the following provisions of RCW 58.17.110 relating to the approval or disapproval of any proposed subdivision:

            "The city, town, or county legislative body shall inquire into the public use and interest proposed to be served by the establishment of the subdivision and dedication.  It shall determine if appropriate provisions are made for, but not limited to, the public health, safety, and general welfare, for open spaces, drainage ways,streets, alleys, other public ways, water supplies, sanitary wastes, parks, playgrounds, sites for schools and schoolgrounds, and shall consider all other relevant facts and determine whether the public  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] interest will be served by the subdivision and dedication.  If it finds that the proposed plat makes appropriate provisions for the public health, safety, and general welfare and for such open spaces, drainage ways, streets, alleys, other public ways, water supplies, sanitary wastes, parks, playgrounds, sites for schools and schoolgrounds and that the public use and interest will be served by the platting of such subdivision, then it shall be approved.  If it finds that the proposed plat does not make such appropriate provisions or that the public use and interest will not be served, then the legislative body may disapprove the proposed plat.  Dedication of land to any public body, may be required as a condition of subdivision approval and shall be clearly shown on the final plat.  The legislative body shall not as a condition to the approval of any plat require a release from damages to be procured from other property owners."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Therefore, at the time the proposed subdivision is submitted to it for review, the city or county legislative body involved should consider,inter alia, whether such streets, roads or other public access ways as are provided for are truly "adequate" when laid against the standards set forth in the Uniform Fire Code.  If they are not, the reviewing authority would be entirely justified in disapproving the subdivision proposal on that basis.

            But even if, for some reason, the reviewing legislative authority were to approve such a proposed subdivision, the only immediate result of that action would be to shift the burden of compliance with § 13.208, supra, to later purchasers of lots therein.  In other words, based upon approval of the subdivision under RCW 58.17.110,supra (or any comparable provisions of the local short subdivision ordinance as the case may be), lots within the subdivision or short subdivision could thereafter legally be sold.  See, RCW 58.17.200.  But as a result, the purchaser would then become the one who would have to do whatever was necessary in order to comply with the Uniform Fire Code before constructing any buildings on the lot or lots thus acquired.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 7]]

            Question (4):

            Your final question, repeated for ease of reference, inquires as follows:

            "If lots which were created through the subdivision, or short subdivision, process prior to the time the 1976 Uniform Fire Code became effective were not sold until after the date the 1976 Uniform Fire Code became effective:  (a) do the purchasers of the individual lots have to provide the access roadway provided for in § 13.208?  (b) does the person who divided the land have to build the access roadway provided for in § 13.208 before any more lots are sold?"

            This question, as we understand it, assumes local approval of the subdivision (or short subdivision) based upon a determination of adequacy under RCW 58.17.110,supra, under such building code requirements as were in effect prior to the time the 1976 Uniform Fire Code became effective.  The subsequent adoption, by the legislature, of the 1976 Code would not, in such a case, have automatically invalidated the preexisting (previously approved) subdivision or short subdivision.  Therefore, there would be no legal barrier to further sales of lots within the subdivision.  But again, any persons purchasing those lots would have to comply with the provisions of § 13.208 of the Uniform Fire Code, 1976 Edition, supra, in order to construct any buildings on their lots.  And thus, as a practical matter, the original subdivider might well find his remaining lots (if any) unsalable unless he first did whatever was necessary, under the amendatory process, to alter the access elements of the plat to the extent necessary to enable any subsequent purchasers of lots therein to comply with the "new" Uniform Fire Code requirements set forth in § 13.208,supra.

            It is hoped that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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