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Plumbers, mechanics haul DOB into court over modular safety

New York’s plumbers and mechanics have hauled the city into court for giving development giant Forest City Ratner a free pass on modular safety.

Stuart O'Brien
Stuart O’Brien

During a hearing in New York Supreme Court Appellate Division last Thursday (April 30) the Plumbing Foundation (PF) City of New York, Inc., and Mechanical Contractors Association (MCA) of New York, Inc. claimed that allowing builders to skirt rules that licensed tradesmen oversee modular construction would compromise safety.

PF executive director Stewart O’Brien said, “Safety is the only reason we’re concerned. The code is very, very clear. The code only exists for safety reasons.”

Unlike traditional structures that are built onsite in New York City, a DOB ruling issued in connection with the giant Pacific Park development resolved that there is no need for licensed electricians, gas workers, or plumbers to work on modular units.

The ruling was a flip-flop on an earlier decision by the DOB that assured the licensed trades that off-site modular work would have to comply with the existing Building Code requiring that the work be performed by employees of licensed firms.

The decision allowed Forest City Ratner to move ahead with its modular operation without employing licensed master plumbers and licensed fire suppression contractors at its Brooklyn factory.

The tradesmen want the de Blasio administration to reverse the DOB ruling — made during the Bloomberg administration — and hold modular constrcuton to the same standards as regular building. O’Brien said is confident that the current administration will question whether the current

easements for modular homes “make any sense.”

The B2 project of Pacific Park
The B2 project of Pacific Park

Brett Jaffe, counsel for the MCA and PF, added, “We think it’s a very clear question of what the statute says. The code says that only licensed plumbing and fire suppression personnel can do construction work in the city. There’s a reason for that. It’s a way to make construction safe.

“Modular construction — which is a terrific development and we support it — [can’t)] start to ignore those safety requirements. When we start to ignore those licensing requirements, we run the risk of building modules that are inherently unsafe. And they’re put together like building blocks.

“The project that Ratner is building is 30 stories high and we just can’t have 30-story buildings that are done in contravention of [typical DOB rules].”

O’Brien made it clear that that the unions have never asked for the Parcific Park Project to be stopped, adding that the primary goal is to call attention to the issue before future projects can be started.

Last year, Forest City bought out Skanska USA’s stake in their Brooklyn Navy Yard modular-construction facility that had produced the units for Pacific Park following a row over cost over-runs and delays on the 363-unit modular residential tower known as B2 BKLYN.

The rest of the 22-acre project, which has been rebranded Pacific Park, is proceeding under a partnership between Forest City and Greenland USA, a subsidiary of a Shanghai-based developer which bought a majority share in the project in the summer.

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