Gotham Gazette

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Stated Meeting: Construction Legislation Moves Forward

The City Council approved three additional construction safety items last week in an effort to improve conditions at works sites across the city.

The legislation, which includes clamping down on "housekeeping" violations, was announced as part of a package of proposals from Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the City Council following several fatal accidents this year.

In addition to the constriction proposals, the council approved legislation to overhaul the city's Environmental Control Board to make its adjudication process easier and more user friendly.

Construction Safety

Two devastating crane accidents and the chief inspector's subsequent arrest sparked increased public outrage this year over the Department of Buildings, a city agency with a long history of dysfunction.

In response, the council and the administration announced more than a dozen proposals to further revamp the way the buildings department does business. Several passed in June, and last week the council added three more bills to the record. All were approved unanimously.

The first (Intro 763-A) classifies "housekeeping violations" -- which can cover anything from loose materials to tripping hazards -- as immediately hazardous. This designation would create stricter penalties for work sites that tend to be sloppy and require they be fixed promptly. Sites that do not comply with the legislation, which was sponsored by Councilmember Annabel Palma, could face a penalty of $5,000.

The council also approved legislation (Intro 687) requiring the annual inspection of structurally compromised buildings. Buildings recently involved in a fire or that have been threatened structurally by other means will have to be inspected by a professional engineer annually. Inspections must continue annually, according to the bill, until the building is found to be in sound condition.

The bill's sponsor, Councilmember Melissa Mark Viverito, said it would assist the city in "red flagging" buildings for further inspection.

In addition, the council approved legislation (Intro 793) requiring the more stringent inspection of retaining walls.

Three years ago, a retaining wall spilled onto Riverside Drive and Henry Hudson Parkway in Upper Manhattan causing millions of dollars in damages and bringing the neighborhood to a standstill. An investigation in 2007 revealed the adjacent property owners had not kept up with maintenance and knew the wall was at risk of collapsing.

Under this legislation, retaining walls must be inspected at least every five years, and private property owners will be responsible for monitoring their conditions. The Buildings Department must also monitor any repairs that are completed.

Environmental Control Board

For Harry Feitelson of Big City Automotive the city's Environmental Control Board was more than a nuisance. It was a detriment to his business.

Feitelson was asked to pay multiple fines for the same violation or issued inaccurate tickets. He said he was given a ticket for failing to complete a boiler inspection in a building without a boiler.

All of this, he added, was one aspect of a labyrinthine process at the Environmental Control Board -- the city's regulatory body overseeing quality of life issues, like sanitation violations.

"I don't think you can be in small business in New York City and not deal with the bureaucracy of the ECB," Feitelson said.

Last week, the City Council unanimously approved legislation (Intro 777), sponsored by Councilmember James Gennaro, revamping the board. In addition to limiting the number of times a hearing can be adjourned, the legislation also requires translation services be provided to those accused of a violation.

The legislation also attempts to streamline the process by transferring jurisdiction over the board from the Department of Environmental Protection to the Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings. The council is also requiring that the board implement technological improvements to allow for online adjudication and electronic case scheduling .

"One of the things you hear is, 'I have to take a day off from work,'" said Council Speaker Christine Quinn. "If you're a small business owner, that's money out of your pocket.'"

Carroll Gardens Narrow Streets

After a community campaign against oversized buildings, the City Council approved a zoning revision for Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn to restrict building height. The revision gave the neighborhood a narrow street designation, which limits the height of buildings. The neighborhood had had a wide street designation due to its deep front yards.


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