AvalonBay, Village of Great Neck agree to fire safety fixes

AvalonBay Communities will construct a more safe and fire-resistant apartment building at 240 East Shore Road amid concerns after a fire at an AvalonBay building in New Jersey earlier this year, according to a Village of Great Neck official.

Village of Great Neck officials asked for modifications to the code for the construction of the 191-unit apartment complex after an Edgewater, N.J., AvalonBay building burned down in January, displacing 500 residents, according to the village official who asked not to be identified.

“The buildings submitted were fully code compliant,” the official said. “However, the village requested a few modifications to the code to enhance the fire resistive construction, which were readily agreed to by Avalon.”

The code changes requested are intended to prevent fires from spreading through the building, the official said. New sprinkler systems and concrete block construction were the main focus of the modifications.

“Buildings will be fully sprinklered inside the apartments, in the corridors, and in the interstitial spaces of the building,” the official said. “Also, we upgraded the minimum requirements for firewalls. Whereas code would require sheetrock construction, we asked for concrete blocks instead.”

“The Village of Great Neck reviewed the New Jersey fire with Avalon as a part of the permitting process to better understand what occurred,” the official said. “As a result, we learned that there are different code requirements in New York state.”

Ron Edelson, whose firm Zimmerman-Edelson is handling public relations for the AvalonBay project, confirmed the code modifications.

Village of Great Neck trustees gave AvalonBay Communities final site-plan approval in December 2014 to build the complex, which will consist of 81 one-bedroom units, 79 two-bedroom units and 31 three-bedroom units. Some 10 percent of the total apartments will be used for workforce housing.

Then Village of Great Neck Mayor Ralph Kreitzman expressed his approval of the project, citing its impact on the area.

 “I think this is an opportunity to both create residential property on the waterfront and also reclaim a nice piece of property that is an eyesore now,” Kreitzman said.

The project subsequently received tax breaks from the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency to help with its financing.

Under the agreement, AvalonBay will make $9,278,456 in payments in lieu of taxes over the next 15 years. The payment in lieu of taxes— known as a PILOT — will start at $95,000 in the first year and increase to $958,110 in the 15th and final year, according to the agreement.

Property taxes on the development would cost about $1 million a year.

Construction of the apartments began on June 4 when AvalonBay broke ground at the 3.85 acre site, which had housed six above-ground petroleum tanks owned by Commander Oil. The tanks were demolished in March.

Edelson said the project is expected to be completed by winter 2017, weather permitting.

Edelson added that AvalonBay is hoping by next summer to find a plot of land in the village to construct build-outs of what the final kitchens and bathrooms would look like.

AvalonBay’s history of fire-related incidents have been documented by troublingdevelopments.org, a website maintained by the 32BJ Service Employees International Union.

32BJ Service Employees International Union is the collective bargaining representative of employees who work at AvalonBay properties in New York City, according to their website.

According to a timeline of AvalonBay fire-related incidents created by troublingdevelopments, AvalonBay’s first incident occurred in 2000 when an Edgewater, N.J. complex was demolished by a fire while under construction, also destroying several surrounding single family homes.

In 2005, a Bergen County, N.J., jury ruled that it was AvalonBay’s negligence that contributed to the fire. AvalonBay was ordered to pay a combined $1 million in settlements to six people whose homes were destroyed as well as undisclosed settlements to five other people whose homes were also destroyed, according to the Associated Press.

The Associated Press report stated that during the trial “Witnesses testified that workers were seen smoking and cooking on the construction site and working after hours. They also said there were no security guards posted on the site, the fences surrounding the complex were shoddy, and electrical equipment that did not comply with federal standards for construction sites was found on the property.”

From April 2003 until July 2011, no fires occurred at any AvalonBay construction sites or complexes, however AvalonBay received three federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration fines, one state of California OSHA warning, and four penalties from the New York City Department of Buildings. All related to fire safety violations, according to the timeline.

In July 2011, a complex in Quincy, Mass., that was built in 1997 by AvalonBay burned down in what state fire department investigators said was faulty construction of the draft stopping in the complex’s attic that led to the rapid spread of the fire, according to the Patriot Ledger.

The next fire occurred in April 2012 at an AvalonBay complex under construction in Garden City.

OSHA fined AvalonBay $31,000 for failing to properly protect their workers following the Garden City blaze, according to an OSHA citation document obtained by the 32BJ Service Employees International Union.

The citation stated that AvalonBay did not upkeep an effective fire protection and prevention program and that the welder whose torch accidentally started the fire was working alone, despite federal regulations requiring a fire watch.

Village of Great Neck officials said they are keeping a close eye on the construction of the complex at 240 East Shore Road.

“We inspect and watch what they’re doing and make sure they’re building the way they are obligated to,” the village official said. “We monitor construction to assure compliance, as we do with all projects. It will meet or exceed expectations.”

Firefighters who responded to the recent 2015 fire in Edgewater, recently called for sturdier, fire-resistant construction of buildings following the January blaze, which was sparked by maintenance workers, according to a Pix11 report.

Efforts to reach Great Neck Fire Alert Company Chief James Neubert for comments on the building’s construction were unavailing.

The complex’s structure is built with a wood frame, but the village official said it is permitted by code.

“Parking levels will be concrete, firewalls separating zones will be concrete, but the basic structure will be wood frame as permitted by code,” the village official said.

The village official compared the construction of this AvalonBay complex to the Ritz-Carlton Residences in North Hills.

“The Ritz-Carlton Residences are under the same wood frame structuring,” the official said.

Senior Vice President and Project Executive of RXR Realty, the developers of the Ritz-Carlton Residences, Joe Graziose disputed the village official’s statement that their buildings have a wood frame structuring.

“The Ritz-Carlton is not built out of wood, but the entire structure is built of steel and concrete,” Graziose said.

Although AvalonBay is the same developing company that built the New Jersey complex that went ablaze, the village said that the Great Neck complex is completely different.

“It’s different than the situation in New Jersey,” a village official said. “It is being held to a different standard and different code than the other project in New Jersey was built to.”

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Joe Nikic

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