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Building codes clash with Amish customs
Steven Helton.jpg
Steven Helton

The Amish community has concerns for Warren County’s current building codes and how the rules may hinder their way of life. 

According to Commissioner Steven Helton, the Amish in his district have contacted him about the potential of recently adopted building codes forcing them to alter their customs -- specifically how their homes are constructed. 

“They are deeply concerned and may be at our next commission meeting on Oct. 21,” said Helton during a county Policy and Personnel Committee meeting on Thursday.

Warren County government recently adopted 2018 building codes, replacing older 2012 codes. That change allows county codes inspector Rich Thompson to provide electrical and plumbing inspections that had previously been done by the state. 

Thompson was not in attendance. 

“I talked to Rich today about it,” said Commissioner Tommy Savage. “He said that, basically, he inspects the structures of the floor joist, the studs in the walls, the roof. They don’t have electrical and they don’t have plumbing. If they hire an outside person to come in and do something, Rich says he tries to look after that. This is about safety and consumer protection.”

Thompson, said Savage, has been unsuccessful in urging them to install battery-operated smoke detectors in their homes, but he has been successful in making sure the homes have appropriate number of exits in case of fire. 

Savage also contacted Property Accessor Beth Martin’s office about taxation. 

“The Property Accessor’s office said because they don’t wire and they don’t plumb and since they build mostly out of rough lumber, that the assessment is like half of what most houses are,” said Savage. 

Helton stated, “One thing that was said to me, I was over there today talking to them, was that they were not moving into Coffee County because of their codes. There’s a concern these new codes may not allow them to use rough cut, sawmill-type lumber or use used materials in their house. They also had a concern for restricting multiple houses in close proximity.”

Warren County code limits one house per lot.

“That’s been a rule since 2002,” said Savage. “If you are going to put more than one, that’s declared a subdivision. You are subdividing.” 

Helton said he was told Warren County currently has 100 Amish families and that more are expected. 

Commissioner Ron Lee said he can understand their concern but he also sees the other side of the issue.

“If a young couple, non-Amish, wanted to build a new house, they’d have to toe the line,” said Lee. “Everything has to be inspected and meet code. Then you have a group over here that doesn’t have to be inspected. I can see the concern, but not only from the Amish. If I were building a new house today, I’d be concerned too. Why don’t they have to follow the rules, but you do?”

Savage replied, “We don’t have much choice. For what they are building, they are in compliance. Rich says he’s got a good working relationship with them and he doesn’t see this causing them problems.”