1,517 new building permits in NYC last year
Mr. LiMandri, 45, is the commissioner of the Department of Buildings, which oversees nearly a million properties in New York City, by enforcing various building codes and laws. He was appointed in 2008, after the resignation of Patricia J. Lancaster, following a series of construction accidents, including a crane collapse in Manhattan that killed seven people.
Q The department just released its 2010 annual report. Can you discuss some of the numbers?
A There are 975,000 buildings and properties in New York City and we have 1,109 employees, 337 of whom are inspectors. We performed 335,449 inspections last year; issued 136,294 construction permits and 1,517 new building permits and 67,069 violations.
What many people don’t realize is that we do about 450,000 plan reviews a year. Last year it was 457,375. That rivals some of the largest architectural firms.
Q Do you have more or fewer inspectors now?
A Slightly fewer, through attrition and budget cuts. But we’re doing more with less and using technology to be more efficient.
Q How so?
A We’ve been trying to make it easier for people to get permits, to do plan reviews, online. Electricians can go online as of last year: they put in their ID numbers, pay for the permit online and print it. Construction permits will also go online this year.
The other piece is dealing with plans online. We hope to pilot that by the end of this year. You would submit your plans — the simplest plans, not the big complicated ones. You open an account with us, send it to us electronically. We look at it when we’re available — we might ask questions or note objections — and e-mail it back to you.
Q Could this work with the big developers?
A The number of large buildings that get built every year is like 200 to 300. So if you are a large developer/owner like the Rudins or the Resnicks, you’re doing these kinds of filings on a regular basis. Instead of hiring someone to drop off stuff for us to look at, they can save transaction time.
Q How much time?
A We saw that when they went online for electrical permits, the processing time went from days or weeks to minutes.
Q Getting back to the annual report, what does it tell us about the city’s recovery?
A It’s in pockets. Permits for new buildings and major alterations fell around 19 percent last year, to 13,000 from 16,000. But permits for small-scale alterations — like moving a wall — rose 6 percent, to nearly 103,000. People are still doing smaller work, and that drives the economy as well.
We’re starting to see pockets of demolitions. We just had seven or eight sites in the last couple of weeks. When you see demolitions come back, it’s a leading indicator that development is coming.
Also, in Manhattan there are four or five large sites, where maybe they slowed construction, that are starting to pick up. It’s the heart of the winter so it’s going to be slow anyway, but we’re hoping that the spring will bring a set of new buildings.
Q It’s been over two years since you took office. What are some of your biggest accomplishments?
A We’ve been working on transforming this department — making it more accountable and instilling confidence in our training programs. We put G.P.S. tracking on our 337 inspectors, so we know where our people are. We conducted a facade safety initiative, and we investigated illegally converted apartments. We used Craigslist and posed as tenants.
Q Have you been able to curb construction accidents?
A We had a reduction in 2010 from the year before by about 28 percent. Clearly there’s been less large-scale construction, but also I am very satisfied that the industry has heard us and responded.
Contractors are using cocoon-netting systems to protect the top four floors during the very early stages of construction. These innovative systems prevent people from falling, as well as falling debris. I’m hoping it will become a city standard.
Building a building is complex, and there are a lot of people you depend on to do it well, and it takes just one of them not to do their job for things to go awry. Our job is to make sure that they put safety ahead of profit.
Q Let’s talk about some of the new regulations for this year.
A The big thing that’s coming down the pike is the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, which will rank buildings by energy efficiency. Owners have to benchmark their buildings — if they’re over 50,000 square feet — and upload information about utility bills into a federal Web site by May 1. The next step is that every 10 years they will have to go through an audit process.
Hat tip to the NYT