631.655.7255 |

The Town Board is ready to define “Demolition”

The issue of “demolition” comes up regularly with waterfront property which has received a variance to build an addition and renovate the existing house.  In addition to a variance, a Southold Town Trustees wetland permit may have been issued

The Building Department, Zoning Board and Trustees each have their own interpretation of what constitutes demolition.  Most often and unexpectedly, the builder is following proper construction standards and removes the old defective wall which was expected to remain and gets ready to reconstruct the same wall.  This results in Big Problems because the Building Dept. issues a stop-work order and stops construction.  This is devastating to the property owner and builder; what is left of your house is exposed to the weather, the builder goes to another job, and all your permits are pulled for review even though you may have had no choice because you must follow the NY State building code.  If you return to the Zoning Board, expect a two to four month delay.  The Trustees issue a criminal violation because the Trustees will claim that your construction exceeds the scope of your permit, and your permits are deemed void by the building department.

The Southold Town Code does not define demolition.  To architects, engineers and construction people in the trade, “demolition”, in industry terms, refers to the complete removal of all building components.  That is, nothing is to be preserved for reuse in place and the construction area is to look as if nothing was ever there, once demolition is complete (… to tear down and do away with completely).  There is no definition of demolition in the NY State Residential Building Code. In the case where elements are being preserved for reuse in place, such as a foundation, the NY State Residential Code classifies this condition as a “Replacement.”  It is important to note that replacements can have additions put on them as well. In that case, it is considered a replacement with an addition.

For waterfront property, the FEMA requirements combined with the NY State Residential Code requirements, demand that an existing dwelling to be elevated when renovated or added onto. There is a 50% value rule which triggers these requirements. When this happens, the construction has to comply with all of the requirements of the code as if it were a new house. For an old house, this forces deconstruction and replacement due to the strict requirements for anchoring/strapping/shear compliance.  This is the code’s way of updating out-of-date construction over time and was lobbied for hard by the insurance companies back in early 2001.  If the foundation is usable and meets current code, it has a tremendous economic value if reused in place, not to mention a positive environmental impact.

The question is whether the Town Board will apply the definition used in the industry or whether they will come up with their own definition.    It seems less arbitrary, and more useful to say that “demolition is when there is complete removal of all building components” rather than guess whether too much “deconstruction” (taking a building apart while carefully preserving valuable elements for re-use) has taken place to an existing house.    This is particularly important to waterfront property owners who have to comply with FEMA changes.  Most homeowners want to save what they can, the foundation is usually the one part of the construction that is salvageable, in other cases the house is saved but the foundation must be replaced with piles.  The purpose behind the NY State building code is to update homes to current construction standards for public health and safety.  The Town should not frustrate this goal through their regulatory process.  It is time for the Town to adopt the industry definition of “demolition” rather than leave it to owners to guess if their permits will survive the construction process.

About "Janet Deluca"

No Comments

Comments are closed.