August 4, 2021

Degraded State Fire Codes for Wood Housing Need Attention at Municipal Level

To the Editor:

The following issue is something important that I have been working on for several years with others, including nationally known fire and code professionals in and out of government, including our state government, to address degraded state fire codes for large, multi-unit light weight wood housing which have seen dramatic fires, including several at four Avalon Bay sites in N.J., most recently this spring at their Princeton Junction facility.

This is something that increasingly needs attention at the municipal level. While the state code rules at the moment, we will be living at the municipal level with this housing, both market rate and affordable, for many decades, long after the developers are gone.

What I, and others, have urged is that to the greatest extent possible, until an upgraded state code is adopted, our municipal officials, both elected and staff, “bargain” creatively with developers/property owners on strengthening their large, light weight wood construction, multi-unit housing standards. This includes upgrading our less than best current fire walls. Masonry and concrete construction is more fire safe and are materials that are sourced in New Jersey, creating jobs here, rather than the scarcer wood supplies coming from the U.S. northwest and elsewhere.

Our officials should also be sure that we have the concrete/masonry steps and elevator, etc. shaft that we bargained for from Avalon Bay for the hospital site project.

As we will have much increased such housing in Princeton this is a worthy subject requiring, at very least, the efforts of elected and relevant staff to do whatever they can in creative thinking for these issues for long term gains.

In addition, it would be helpful if mayor and Council sent another resolution to the state legislature as it did in 2016. Senator Loretta Weinberg, Senate majority leader, is the prime sponsor of S2051, along with others. Such continued support could be very helpful. The features in S2051 can serve as a guideline to Princeton.

Grace Sinden
Ridgeview Circle