New York’s climate-friendly wooden apartment buildings face regulations and supply chain issues

The rules lack clarity

But the biggest obstacle to a city-wide rollout of mass timber buildings, which typically use wood for their columns and beams, may be city officials themselves.

“There’s just a lingering lack of clarity about what’s allowed,” said Bill Caleo, co-founder of the Brooklyn Home Company, a developer putting the finishing touches on a 14-unit hardwood condo project in the 670 union. St. in Park Slope called Timber House.

But it was a slow and complicated process. At first, Caleo sought to use a type of wood called cross-laminated timber, which has pieces glued together at perpendicular angles. The Department of Buildings has given the material its blessing, said Caleo, which bought its site for $1.8 million in 2017.

Special approval was needed because, at the time, the city’s building code prohibited CLT. Officials feared that the many seams in the joined pieces would make the wood structurally weak, which would be even more of a concern in the event of a fire. (The code allows the wood to be joined lengthwise, like in a sandwich, because it logically has to be: historic warehouses and SoHo lofts were built this way, analysts say. This material is usually called glued laminated timber.)

But just as Brooklyn Home was about to pour its foundation, Caleo said, building department officials suddenly shifted gears and declared CLT banned. Caleo and his team leaned on his local city council member to change the situation, but it didn’t help. The six-story building had to move to GLT, which he said he luckily bought before Covid hit.

“The buildings had none of that,” said Eric Liftin, the founder of Mesh Architectures, which designed Timber House. “I think the fire department doesn’t like wood to begin with, so the fact that there is another product, CLT, is just too much.”

Timber House, which offers studios starting at $450,000, has sold 12 of its 14 apartments since sales began in the spring, said Caleo, which expects a sale of $30 million. But he is waiting for an occupancy certificate, which he hopes to obtain during the summer.

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