Looking for a safer way to build - Legislative package to impact new construction here

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In the wake of several fatal crane accidents on construction sites in Manhattan, the New York City Council passed stringent construction safety legislation this week that will have a significant effect on large development projects in downtown Brooklyn and on the Williamsburg waterfront.

At a Housing and Buildings Committee Hearing last week, councilmembers introduced the plan comprising of seven laws that would require additional training and education programs for new workers, promote the inspections of retaining walls and mandate certain materials to be used in climber or tower crane operations.

“These seven bills represent an integral part of the legislative agenda that the mayor, Speaker [Christine] Quinn and I announced June 4 with industry leaders,” Department of Buildings Acting Commissioner Robert LiMandri said, explaining each of the seven bills during his testimony. “That agenda is designed to further the safety of New Yorkers and construction workers. The construction industry in New York has a huge presence in so many New Yorkers’ lives, on those who live work or travel near construction sites, on the workers who are rebuilding our city and on our residents who will be living and working in the buildings under constructi­on.”

The bill would also encourage communication between the engineers and workers on construction sites involving the erection, use and dismantling of cranes, though there were several questions from industry representatives about enforcement of the proposals regarding safety and communications, such as who would be checking cranes regularly and how that would be paid for.

Ken Fisher, an attorney with WolfBlock and a former Brooklyn councilman, said that the developers he represents and much of the construction industry is generally in favor of making construction sites safer because it will save them money on delays and insurance, and it is the right thing to do for the community.

“When they have become uncomfortable is when you have swings by the Department of Buildings of what they think is or isn’t a safe practice,” Fisher said. “It’s the uncertainty and the surprises that can disrupt a project. As long as the ground rules are clear and fairly applied it will be a short term increase in cost of doing business but long term good for everybody.”

The legislation will most directly affect Brooklyn neighborhoods with construction projects of high rise developments that would mostly likely employ a crane on site.

“Potentially this will apply to the Williamsburg waterfront and downtown Brooklyn,” said Brooklyn Councilmember Erik Dilan, chair of the Housing Committee. “If they have to go above 10 stories, I imagine they will be affected.”

About half a dozen to a dozen developers are constructing large high-rise towers in these neighborhoods, including Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project, Levine Builders’ The Edge condominium complex along Kent Avenue and the East River in Williamsburg, and the Galid Network’s hotel on 312 Gold Street in Downtown Brooklyn. A spokesman for Forest City Ratner said that they have not had time to review the legislation and would not be able to respond before this article went to press.

Fisher believes that large-scale developers will be able to absorb costs incurred if the proposed crane safety regulations become law. The more pressing problem is turmoil in the credit markets, which is slowing development and encouraging New Yorkers to seek rental units instead of buying condominiums.

“If you’re in the middle of a job and you get shut down, because you’re not following the rules, that can have a real impact. But putting in additional safety mechanisms in at the front end doesn’t add much to the cost,” Fisher said. “A good, experienced construction manager is hard to find these days, though that may change rapidly as development starts to slow.”

Updated 3:43 pm, October 19, 2011
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