BELTON — Some downtown business owners want to live on floors above their businesses. However, because the historical buildings were not designed to be used as homes, city officials must develop fire safety stipulations before they can be converted to living spaces.

Business increased downtown since the city received a grant that allowed owners to improve the outside of their buildings, city spokesman Paul Romer said.

Now, some owners would like to move upstairs, and some already have.

minimum requirements and funding

Belton City Council members met in a workshop to discuss creating minimum requirements to convert the historical buildings’ second stories to living spaces that would be reasonably safe from fires. However, city officials said they don’t want requirements to be so extensive or expensive that owners can’t meet them.

“We know more people want to live downtown … we want them to be safe,” City Manager Sam Listi said.

One concern is that people who already moved above their businesses would be unable to afford expensive renovations and be forced to leave. However, council members agreed that minimum fire safety standards could not be compromised, and current residents must fix their upstairs apartments or move out.

A solution for money problems, proposed by the mayor, would be to find funds for safety grants ranging from $3,000 to $5,000, which could be given to residents based on need.

Safety ratings

Architects proposed two safety compliance methods, prescriptive or performance, from which city officials can choose.

The performance method would assess many factors such as building height, construction materials, exits, stairways, emergency lighting and fire alarms. The buildings would then receive a numerical safety score and be required to meet the mandatory scores for exits, fire safety and general safety.

The prescriptive method would allow the city to set minimum requirements for buildings that could require specific instructions for the second floors.

Then the owner must submit a floor plan or a letter stamped by an engineer stating the second floor can handle residential use.

The owner would be required to state the type of business on the first floor. Finally, a structural engineer would inspect the building.

The prescriptive method takes into account the following categories: fire protection, exits, floor and wall separation, electrical wiring and emergency notifications such as reflective stickers that indicate a residence on the second floor and a horn or strobe to alert people outside of a fire.

After city officials draft a policy, they plan to meet with business owners and then schedule a public hearing before the council.

The recommended time given for business owners to comply with the safety stipulations is 12 months.

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