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Standing before a backdrop of a featureless boarded-up vacant Williamsburg lot where construction has ceased for several months, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and six Councilmembers introduced a new bill earlier this week that will allow developers to restart stalled construction sites if they agree to increased safety standards.
“If these sites are not properly maintained, they can become safety hazards to residents and even havens of criminal activity,” said Quinn.“Our legislation will require enhanced site maintenance while construction is halted and allow projects to avoid delays when economic conditions improve.”
The bill, which councilmembers unanimously passed on October 14 by a vote of 47-0, will create a new program administered by the Department of Buildings (DOB) to allow developers to reapply for permits more easily after they expire.
The DOB has counted 448 stalled sites, 214 of which are in Brooklyn, which have ceased work due to financing drying up during the credit crisis. The result has often led to abandoned lots, half-finished construction sites, and empty condo towers scattered throughout the borough.
“We want to make sure these projects are ready to go when the next round of financing becomes possible,” said Councilmember David Yassky (D-Williamsburg), who called the bill “a meaningful step” towards helping restart construction and reduce blighted properties in his district.
Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri addressed the bill, saying that property owners must maintain their job sites in a safe way regardless of whether construction has stopped or is continuing.
“This new legislation will encourage them to better safeguard their stalled sites so they can resume work quickly once financing is secured and complete their construction projects, which will benefit the city’s communities and its economy,” said Limandri.
The bill would not apply to all stalled development sites, just ones with recently expired permits.A developer must notify the DOB when work on the site halts and submit a detailed safety monitoring plan to the agency to ensure that the site remains secure.Under current law, construction permits can expire if work is suspended or has been abandoned for 12 months or if construction work has not begun within this period.
“This bill will at least partially address a problem that every outer borough community has experienced,” said Councilmember Lew Fidler, who co-sponsored the bill.“To the extent that it serves the dual purpose of incentivizing proper safe and aesthetic maintenance of the site, and a faster completion of work, it is a win-win for communities.”
Not everyone sees it that way.
Williamsburg resident Rebecca Poole thinks that the DOB will not be able to enforce the new program, calling the bill “a Band-Aid on a gunshot wound.”
“If the DOB actually enforced their rules and did so in a timely fashion, the public would be better served than by this bill,” said Poole.“This bill seems to address the problem of addicts or travelers who use stopped sites as a base station and not much else.”
Quinn responded to criticism of the bill, noting that the program would not benefit developers “who are going to walk away from their properties.”
“It is not going to solve every problem on every site,” said Quinn. “Those may require a more aggressive program.”
©2009 Community Newspaper Group
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