Fight to Get Scaffolding Down Continues in Second Term with Reintroduction by Council Member Ben Kallos
New York, NY – More than 7,700 scaffolds entomb 280 miles of City sidewalks may soon be dismantled, under legislation introduced by Council Member Ben Kallos in 2016 and to be reintroduced on Wednesday, January 31, 2018. Unnecessary scaffoldings also known as “sidewalk sheds” would have to be removed if seven days pass without construction work with a six-month limit to complete necessary repairs.
Sidewalk sheds are temporary structures, made of wooden planks, boards and metal pipes to protect pedestrians from dangerous conditions that are being corrected or new construction. Scaffolding is not only an eyesore but attract crime such asdrug deals and provide an alternative to shelter for homeless. Sidewalk sheds meant to keep residents safe have become a danger in themselves as they collapse on pedestrians in Manhattan and Queens causing injuries. In spite of these collapses, many sidewalk sheds persist for years, sometimes more than a decade, with one almost old enough to vote.
There are several sidewalk sheds in Council District 5 represented by Kallos that have been up longer than he has been in office. Over eight years at 1850 Second Avenue, over seven years at 1772 Second Avenue, over five years at 1175 York Avenue and 302 East 95th Street, and over four years at 511 East 80th Street. Often times, it is much more expensive to fix a dangerous condition than to leave a sidewalk shed up indefinitely
“Sidewalk sheds are like the once welcomed house guest that never leaves. While we need them for safety during construction, that construction must happen immediately, and then it is time for that sidewalk shed to come down,” said Council Member Ben Kallos. “It’s time to change the city landscape by removing the swarm of sidewalk sheds that blight our neighborhoods. This legislation is good for businesses, tenants, pedestrians and will improve quality of life for the City.”
The legislation was heard in October of 2017 has gained the support of the New York Hospitality Alliance and the New York State Restaurant Association with fierce opposition by the Rent Stabilization Association and the Real Estate Board of New York.
Kallos’ legislation would set the following timeline for sidewalk sheds in place for dangerous conditions:
- 90 days for building owners to fix a dangerous condition,
- 90 additional for building owners days to fix the dangerous condition upon extension,
- After 180 days, the city would do the work to correct the dangerous condition and bill the owner for all costs.
- Work could not be interrupted for more than 7 days without a mandate to take down the sidewalk shed or face heavy penalties.
Under the same legislation, new construction would need to continue without more than 7 days of interruption until the new development is safely capped off or completed. Exemptions in the legislation provide for weather, stop work orders, time awaiting permit renewals or in cases of safety risks.
In the 1980s, the City passed a law designed to protect pedestrians from falling bricks and building facades. The law, and subsequent amendments requires regular inspection of certain buildings and if a building is found to pose a safety risk and needs exterior construction work, scaffolding is required. Unfortunately, there is no law requiring the scaffolding to come down if no work is being done or the work has ceased. This legislation would force the removal of the scaffolding unless doing so will pose a credible safety risk to the public.
The proliferation of scaffolding is exacerbated by continuous construction, which is only set to accelerate following several planned upzoning of neighborhoods around the City. Complaints related to scaffolding can be made via 311 to the Department of Buildings, which can issue fines. However, building owners often choose to pay the fines and keep the scaffolding in place as a cheaper alternative to dismantling the scaffolding before any work has commenced as the cost of reinstalling it often runs into the tens of thousands of dollars.
“The City has created a venue where it’s cheaper for property owners to keep up sidewalk shedding rather than completing the construction that will make the property safe for tenants and pedestrians. At a State level we passed legislation that reduced languishing scaffolding at NYCHA developments but more needs to be done to reduce sidewalk shedding at private residences, that’s why I introduced legislation in the State Assembly that addresses this issue,” said Assemblymember Robert J. Rodriguez. “I proudly support Councilman Ben Kallos on taking action in the City Council and I look forward to working with him to remove sidewalk shedding that has outlasted its purpose and use.”
In the summer of 2015, the Mayor’s Administration removed eight miles of scaffolding from New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) properties where no active work was happening. Months later, the Governor signed a bill by Assembly Member Robert Rodriguez requiring NYCHA to remove any remaining dormant scaffolding on its sites. Kallos’ bill would apply a similar requirement on private building owners.
“When scaffolding is left up for months to years on end it can devastate restaurants and bars. It deters customers, reduces foot traffic and decimates sidewalk café business. In many cases, restaurants and bars are forced to reduce employee hours, lay off workers and in some cases shut their business,” said Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance.
“Scaffolding represents one of the most unique and greatest threats to restaurant viability in New York,” Kevin Dugan,” Kevin Dugan, Government Affairs Director of the NYS Restaurant Association said. “These overwrought structures shield storefronts from potential customers, cutting business up to 30 percent in some situations. These structures can remain up for years and can be the single greatest reason an eatery will have to shut their doors forever. The restaurants and bars that call this City home already have enough obstacles to make ends meet and the NYS Restaurant Association applauds Councilman Kallos’ bill to eliminate the largest physical one – superfluous scaffolding.”