Tension is growing between city officials and the development community over the city's plans to improve construction site safety, following a second construction-related accident at the Trump SoHo over the weekend. The Bloomberg administration halted construction yesterday at the Trump SoHo development project after a dozen glass window panels came crashing down during a rainstorm on Saturday night. The windows were knocked loose by a chain attached to construction equipment on the 26th floor, and the Department of Buildings issued a violation to the contractor, Bovis Lend Lease, for failing to safeguard the public and property.
About two months ago, a worker fell to his death from the roof at the same site, at the corner of Varick and Spring streets.
"I think there is an enormous amount of concern. We have seen a ton of unsafe construction work that has led to building accidents," the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, Andrew Berman, said. "If the city can't keep construction safe, it is a huge problem. That is a basic job that the city needs to do, and in all too many cases it is not getting done." In a statement, Bovis said there were no injuries and that the accident was caused by high winds.
The event was the latest in a series of high-profile construction accidents. In the fall the city released statistics showing that 29 laborers died in work-related accidents in the 12 months preceding September 30, a figure which represents a 61% increase over the previous year; the number of safety violations at high-rise construction sites nearly doubled between November 2006 and November 2007.
Mayor Bloomberg has been pushing the Department of Buildings to become less a liaison between the developers and the city and more an enforcement agency. In a speech last month, he said the department is "on the front lines of public safety in New York City," and last year he put the department in the portfolio of agencies that answers to the deputy mayor for operations, Edward Skyler, who also oversees the police and fire departments.
"We're at the point where we have the foundation in place to fully transform from a reactive agency to a proactive one," the buildings commissioner, Patricia Lancaster, said yesterday in an e- mail message.
But representatives within the development community fear that more aggressive oversight by the city could go too far could and have a deleterious effect on an industry that is already facing a weakening economy and a softer credit market.
"It's becoming an issue," the president of the Real Estate Board of New York, Steven Spinola, said. Mr. Spinola said the city needs to be clearer about when a stop work order can be enacted and how long it can last. It often takes too long to get a construction site back up and running after a stop work order, leaving people out of work and development projects behind schedule, he said.
"I do believe that the city is responding to a number of accidents ó some terrible tragedies and other accidents where nobody got hurt. But why they believe shutting down that many jobs is going to correct the matter, well, you'll have to ask them," he said.
Last month, the president of Manhattan, Scott Stringer, held a press conference calling for more aggressive inspections of building sites and the creation of a citizen watchdog group.
Assemblyman James Brennan, a Democrat of Brooklyn who has authored two bills that would provide the Department of Buildings with greater enforcement tools, said much more needs to be done to crack down on illegal contractors. "I am pleased that the department is getting more aggressive, but we have a ways to go here," he said.