While stalled condo projects and big blue “death fences” may be the order of the day throughout Brooklyn, the City Council is taking steps to make sure that the community’s quality of life won’t be affected.
The Council is hammering out new legislation that would make it worth a developer’s while to better secure their half-completed projects.
If passed, developers feeling the financial pinch can enroll in a special program run by the city’s Department of Buildings, where all of their permits would be continued if they agree to maintain the safety of their construction sites.
According to current law, construction permits immediately expire if work on the site is suspended for more than 12 months. When they want to begin work again, they have to jump through a series of city hoops to acquire the permits they already had, officials said. These challenges have also gotten bigger because the city has recently changed their building codes for the first time since 1968, officials said.
To be approved for the new program, one would have to “notify [the Department of Buildings] when permitted work would be suspended and when it will resume” as well as “submit a detailed plan for the Commissioner’s approval specifying how the safety of the construction site will be maintained while work is suspended or delayed.”
If a developer deviates in any way from their plan, their permits would be immediately rescinded.
The bill, which is supported by the city’s Department of Buildings, was mulled over during a hearing by the Committee on Housing and Buildings led by Bushwick City Councilmember Erik Martin Dilan last week.
Real estate professionals, developers and property owners all had a chance to chime in on the bill, which was brought to the committee by Manhattan City Councilmember Daniel Garodnick.
“In a moment of history where there is such a heightened concern, we want to ensure that these stalled sites have the best possible safety mechanisms in place,” said Garodnick. “We’ve seen a lot of stalled sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn and elsewhere and we want to create the right incentives for developers to share with the Department of Buildings andcommunity and agree to protocols that are specific to their sight.”
Brooklyn City Councilmembers co-sponsoring the bill include Letitia James (D-Fort Greene), Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge), Michael Nelson (D-Midwood) and Lew Fidler (D-Mill Basin).
“Construction sites are stalled all over the city,” Fidler recently told members of Informed Voices of Canarsie. “For whatever reason their project has stopped, but we want them to maintain it until they can start it up again.” “No one wants to live on a block where there’s an empty pit in the ground where kids can get hurt,” he said, adding that the committee recently pulled the bill so they can add specifics to that would demand that the developers keep the fences clean, maintain the surrounding grounds and streets and make sure that the fire suppression systems are updated regularly.
“We don’t want to make it harder for them [the developers] to finish a lawful project. “But we’re not going to help them when they’re not doing what they should be doing.”
At the hearing, DOB Commissioner Robert LiMandri said that if passed, the new bill will help “offset the adverse affects that poorly maintained sites have on property values.”
It will also ensure that projects would get off the ground faster once the funding is in place, he said.
“So far, we’ve identified more than 400 stalled sites throughout the five boroughs,” he said. “While we anticipate this total to increase, the number changes regularly as construction begins and properties are removed from the stalled sites list. This will help to offset the risk that stalled sites pose, better protecting New York’s communities from unsafe, unattended and unsightly stalled construction.”
Ed Jaworski, vice-president of the Madison-Marine-Homecrest Civic Association, also testified at the September 21 hearing.
While Jaworski says the proposed bill is a start, he doesn’t believe it addresses the problem of stalled building sites found to be in violation of existing zoning regulations.
“What do you do about these other situations of blight caused because people didn’t go through the process?” Jaworski said. “Illegal work is going on.”
Jaworski is also critical of the bill as proposed because he says it actually benefits developers and would allow them to string out construction for years - forcing neighbors to look at ugly plywood fences.
“It’s an outrage to think that someone has to live with that,” he said.