New Building Code adopted

First major revision of the City’s Building Code to take effect July 2008. On June 27, 2007, the City Council voted 47-0-1 to approve the Bloomberg Administration’s proposal to replace the City’s building code with a modified version of the International Building Code. The vote followed two public hearings before the City Council’s Committee on Housing & Buildings and culminated nearly five years of work led by the Department of Buildings. Over 400 volunteers, primarily experts in the fields of construction, fire safety, engineering, architecture, government and affordable housing, labored over section-by-section revisions to the International Building Code to make it applicable to the city’s unique density and building issues.

The Council approved a new Building, Mechanical and Fuel Gas Code along with amendments to the new administrative sections of the code. This vote followed the 2005 approval of a new Plumbing Code and the administrative sections which are to become effective with the full code. Mayor Bloomberg signed the new code on July 3rd.

The new code calls for a July 1, 2008 effective date and will impact only new building construction. Builders have a one-year grace period, until July 2009, during which they can choose to construct a building under either the existing or new code.

Buildings Commissioner Patricia Lancaster testified before the City Council’s Committee on Housing & Buildings at its initial hearing. Calling the existing code, which had not been substantially revised since 1968, “complex, convoluted and sometimes contradictory,” Lancaster credited the push to replace the City’s code to a campaign promise made by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2001. Lancaster said that significant changes in construction technology over the past 40 years made revisions imperative, and she asked for its immediate adoption. She stressed improvements in life-safety, cost savings and the fact that the proposed new code requires revisions to occur every three years. As a result, Lancaster added, the code would constantly be under review.

Commissioner Shaun Donovan of the Department of Housing Preservation and Development followed Commissioner Lancaster’s testimony. Donovan stressed the impact of the city’s high construction costs on the construction of affordable housing. He asked for the Council’s immediate adoption, saying that the new code would help to lower building costs.

Council members then questioned Buildings staff, including Commissioner Lancaster, Deputy Commissioner for Legal Affairs and Chief Code Counsel Phyllis Arnold and Deputy Commissioner for Technical Affairs and Chief Code Engineer Fatma Amer. Council Member Tony Avella faulted the provision that allows permits to be valid for “up to two years” rather than only one, saying that it would lead to an increase in the number of abandoned work sites. Arnold disagreed, saying that the issue was with enforcement, not with the twoyear provision. Other members focused on the potential problems with the “rushed” effective date. Lancaster responded that developers were “clamoring” to build under the new code, which she said would be permitted through Buildings’ reconsideration process.

When public testimony opened, support testimony continued from several chairs of the advisory committees that worked on the new text with Buildings. Irwin Cantor, an engineer who headed the Structural/ Foundation Technical Committee and who also sits on the City’s Planning Commission, responded to the Council’s comments that an immediate vote seemed too rushed. “Why approve this today?” Cantor asked “because this is New York City” and it is “six years after 9/11.” Cantor said that it was time for the City to lead in this area and not continue to follow other cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco.

At the second hearing on June 20th, disability advocates argued that the new code did not do enough to ensure the city has the most accessible buildings possible.

The Committee on Housing & Buildings voted unanimously to approve, sending it to the full Council for its approval vote.

Council: The New York City Construction Codes, Int. 578 (June 27, 2007).

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