Since August 2008, the front of the Department of Buildings' headquarters in lower Manhattan has been covered by a sidewalk shed. The unsightly steel-and-wood structure outside 280 Broadway stood because for years the city had set aside no money to pay to fix the crumbling facade.
"Thankfully, work has commenced as of a few months ago," Patrick Wehle, an assistant buildings commissioner, said at a City Council hearing last week. But the point had been made: Because it's much costlier to fix a façade than to maintain a shed that devours sidewalk space, blocks sunlight and hurts businesses, and no deadline to remove it, sheds have spread across the city. There are now 8,843—about 200 miles worth—and they pop up any time a building is built or repaired, as Crain's documented in a cover story last year.
Late last year City Councilman Ben Kallos sponsored a bill to stop the scourge and last week a hearing was finally held to discuss it.
His bill would compel landlords to remove sheds—which Kallos called "the house guest that never leaves"—if no work is done on the building for seven days, with exceptions for weather and other issues.
While officials from the de Blasio administration and real estate community agreed at the hearing that sheds are ugly, they insisted Kallos' bill could jeopardize public safety by forcing sheds to come down sooner than they should.
"This is a very complicated situation," said Wehle, who said the city is exploring "disincentives" to encourage landlords to remove dormant sheds but offered no specifics.
The Real Estate Board of New York argues that construction projects are often delayed for reasons beyond anyone's control and it would cost landlords to take down sheds after a week of inactivity and then reinstall them.
"The bill is well-intentioned but there are too many unintended consequences," said Carl Hum, a senior vice president at REBNY, although the organization did agree to meet Kallos on Nov. 15 to discuss his legislation. Kallos is urging anyone interested in the matter to attend a meeting at his office Nov. 14.
Meanwhile, the city's longest-standing shed appears to be the one at the corner of West 115th Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem. It first went up in 1990, which means if it were a person, it could have ordered its first drink six years ago—when the shed outside the Department of Buildings was merely three years old.