Better Safe Than Square One

Better Safe Than Square One

Hobbled projects plague the five boroughs, but the city is attempting new measures to keep them safe.
Matt Chaban

Since the real estate bubble burst, countless construction sites across the city have become frozen in time, fossils from an age of both ambitious and arrogant architecture and development. While new construction legislation announced today at City Hall will not exactly finish any of those half-finished foundations and half-built buildings, it may go a long way towards keeping them safe and keeping their developers happy.

“One of the many negative impacts of the national recession has been a sharp slowdown in construction activity,” Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a statement. “Stalled construction sites pose significant safety challenges and the longer they remain dormant, the more harmful the impact on the City’s economy.’’

The new legislation seeks to address both those issues by offering developers an extension on their permits if they agree to implement certain safety standards at stalled construction sites. After years of hurried and harried construction sites posing the greatest threat to public safety, a far bigger concern these days is those that have, in one way or another, been abandoned. The Department of Buildings has so far identified 138 such sites, with more turning up every day.

Should the legislation pass, the hope is that developers will come forward and notify the department of their project’s uncertain status. They must then agree to a safety monitoring plan, which ensures that the site has all necessary safety measures in place—secure perimeter fencing, clean pits, structure free of debris, necessary safety netting—as well as sign on for regular inspections to ensure the continued integrity and safety at the site.

In exchange, the developer receives the right to renew building permits within four years, instead of the current standard, which requires reapplications after 12 months of dormancy.

“Any construction site, active or inactive, must be safely maintained so New Yorkers are properly protected at all times,” Robert LiMandri, commissioner of the Department of Buildings, said in the release. “Development is a vital component to our City’s economy, and stalled job sites that are safeguarded should be able to pick up where they left off once financing is secured.”

Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, a developer advocacy group, said the legislation was a win-win for both his constituents and the city. “Not only does it provide for greater safety, but it also helps ensure our economic recovery because developers will not be forced to reapply for these permits,” he said. After all, it’s always good to be on the safe side.