Thursday, April 03, 2008

More Fun with Buildings and Regulations

The Village Voice's Tom Robbins wades into the morass this week that is one of our favorite topics: the mess that is the construction and regulation (or lack thereof). The story focuses at length on Assem. Jim Brennan and a proposal that would have toughened enforcement by the Department of Buildings that was passed by the legislature and vetoed by former Gov. Spitzer last year, partly at the urging of the Mayor. We recommend it in its entirety, but will go to the copy and past for a few excerpts:
...while the crane horror adds a whole new dimension to the problem, this is hardly the first time the building surge of the past few years has prompted public fear and rage. For all its economic benefits, the boom has turned vacant lots and demolition sites into battle zones across the city. The weapons of assault are backhoes, bulldozers, and piledrivers. And while many local elected officials have tried to respond to panicky constituents, the complaints have generally prompted little more than snickers at City Hall.

There, the dominant attitude remains the Doctoroff Doctrine—the policy espoused by ex–deputy mayor and still top Bloomberg economic adviser Daniel Doctoroff: The more building the better, and don't sweat the small stuff....As chairman of the assembly's Committee on Cities, Brennan held hearings in September 2006 to put a spotlight on the department's enforcement shortfall. So many people wanted to testify that the hearings had to be extended an extra day. First to speak was Buildings Commissioner [Patricia] Lancaster, who lamented that she'd inherited "a neglected agency that was in complete disarray," where "one-third of staff positions were vacant and computers crashed daily." Agency morale "was at an all-time low," she said, and "documents and files were unaccounted for."

Lancaster went on to describe the yeoman effort her agency has made to make information available on the Web and to redo the city's building code...More disturbing was the testimony of witnesses who described desperate, hand-to-hand combat with lawless builders. A Williamsburg woman described how her home had been showered with asbestos, her water pipes burst, and her electric lines illegally tapped. A homeowner in Greenpoint told how her home's foundation had been cracked so badly thanks to plans drawn up by a notorious architect that her family, including her 83-year-old mother, had to vacate.
For the record, we've tagged 230 posts since April, 2007 with "construction issues," which is the label we give items with safety and quality of life issues related to construction. We've probably neglected to tag a whole bunch more. Clicking here will bring up some of them from March.



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