February 25, 2015

AvalonBay Volunteers To Improve Standards For Fire Safety

AvalonBay, the developer of 280 units planned for the former Princeton Hospital site, announced last week that it has voluntarily upgraded its fire protection systems for the Princeton complex as well as another planned for Maplewood. The announcement came in the wake of a devastating fire at AvalonBay’s Edgewater rental community in Bergen County last month, which destroyed the complex and left some 500 people homeless.

While the construction of Edgewater was up to code, officials have blamed the lightweight wood construction and lack of masonry fire walls for the quick spread of the blaze after it was started by maintenance workers using a blowtorch to do plumbing work in a wall. At the two new developments, AvalonBay will incorporate more sprinklers throughout the building, including the attics, closet spaces, and between the ceilings and floors. The company has also said it will install masonry firewalls, which are currently not required by the National Fire Protection Association Standard.

The move was praised by Princeton Mayor Liz Lempert, who hopes it will lead to a revision of the state’s construction code. “I was happy to see that they’re going above and beyond the code in two important areas,” she said on Monday. “I still hope that the code will be changed. I think it’s important to recognize that the provisions that AvalonBay has said they’re going to incorporate into their design are voluntary. It would be better for everybody if those things are required as part of all developments in New Jersey.”

Ms. Lempert and Mercer County Executive Brian Hughes were among those calling for a review by the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) of New Jersey’s Uniform Construction Code last month prior to evaluation of AvalonBay’s plan for the apartment complex on Witherspoon Street. In a press release from AvalonBay announcing the fire safety changes, DCA Commissioner Richard Constable praised the company for its action.

“AvalonBay’s decision to voluntarily hold themselves to a higher standard when building these communities is a very positive development for the Princeton and Maplewood communities,” he said.

Last month, Assemblyman Scott Rumana introduced a bill that would impose a moratorium on light-frame construction for multi-family housing in New Jersey. The bill has garnered support among several local residents. On Monday, a group of local officials and staff met to put together some recommendations related to the issue. The recommendations were to be considered by Council at it’s meeting Tuesday night, Ms. Lempert said on Monday.