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BUILDING INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION of Philadelphia

News & Resources

Update on Construction Restart: Member Meeting with Commissioner Perri and Councilman Squilla

At the BIA Member Meeting this morning, Commissioner David Perri provided some important insights and updates related to construction activity in Philadelphia.

Construction

  • As outlined in the Executive Order, the Commissioner reiterated that construction on projects permitted on or before March 20 was allowed to resume May 1, except that underpinning or demolition of attached buildings was prohibited and no work can occur in occupied units, both single-family and multifamily.
  • Every active construction site MUST have a Pandemic Safety Officer (PSO) with credentials proving he/she passed one of the online courses approved by L+I, as well as a safety plan dealing with hygiene and social distancing.
  • For the time being, construction on projects permitted after March 20 and onward cannot commence. Members may apply for permits but cannot move forward into construction since the court system, appeals boards, and ZBA are not operating. L+I is working with the City Solicitor to establish a process, particularly for projects that don’t require a zoning review or permit by the ZBA.
  • The Commissioner emphasized that the curfew is being enforced. Currently, construction activity may occur between 7 am and 5 pm Monday through Friday; work on the weekend is prohibited. The purpose of the curfew is to provide relief in rowhome neighborhoods. He acknowledged that the restriction is not in the best interest of larger projects wanting to do shift work or trade stacking. L+I expects the time restriction to change soon, perhaps early next week.   Most likely commercial and large residential projects would no longer be subject to the curfew and single and two-family construction would remain limited.
  • The BIA got clarification on questions related to occupied buildings:
    1. The Commissioner reiterated that no work requiring a permit may occur in occupied single-family and multifamily buildings in order to prevent the mixing of residents and contractors. However, Commissioner Perri did say that members may submit a plan for permit work in occupied buildings that demonstrates how residents and workers will be kept safely apart and L+I will consider the plan on a case-by-case basis.
    2. Punch list items that do not require a building permit are allowed to occur. Anything that prepares for occupancy, such as painting, cabinets, fixtures are allowed.
    3. Warranty work to fix things that are broken is also allowed and will be made clear in the FAQs. Commissioner Perri asks the industry to use its best judgment and do only what’s necessary. If it can wait, let it wait.
  • L+I will consider allowing underpinning in certain conditions on a case-by-case basis. If the adjacent property is unoccupied or a formal agreement with the neighbors exists and is documented, the request may be considered more positively. Projects where the adjacent property is occupied will be more difficult to allow. L+I must consider the rights of neighbors and their ability to access consultants to represent their interests, such as engineers, lawyers, etc.
  • Furniture, fixture, and equipment/appliance deliveries are permitted outside the hours of the curfew.
  • Patrols are out looking for contractors working on Saturday and other violations. Regulations are in place to charge a $2,000 fine if found working when prohibited or if there is no PSO or safety plan on site.

Permitting

  • L+I is working on how to open MSB. Currently, you can make an appointment to pick up plans using an online form.
  • The Commissioner reported that there is currently no backlog. Examiners are issuing permits at about 40% of normal. Accelerated review has been suspended since there is no backlog and permits can be issued as quickly.
  • Trade permits (HVAC, plumbing, electrical) are being issued and inspections are being scheduled.
  • Look for new instructions on the L+I website for sending in questions and requesting advice for specific scenario advice.
  • In response to City budget issues, L+I must increase permit fees. Expect an across-the-board increase of about 5% for any fee to L+I, effective on July 1.
 

We were fortunate to have Councilman Mark Squilla join the meeting as well. Councilman Squilla was asked to address a number of member concerns related to the budget, proposed legislation, implementation of the tax abatement, and getting all City functions related to development up and running. Key takeaways include:

  • The Councilman recommends waiting until after the budget season is over before pressing the Administration and City Council on extending the deadline for implementing the new tax abatement. He suggests raising the issue in the summer before Council is back in session since there are progressives pushing City Council to revisit the tax abatement program more generally.
  • Councilman Squilla said he would push the Administration and the Law Department to figure out how to get RCOs meeting, as is happening in municipalities around the state, since PA Act 15 was passed, as well as around the country. Philadelphia is the exception to that rule and large as-of-right projects that need CDR have no way of getting to the building permit stage. An overly cautious Law Department is needlessly holding up as-of-right projects. The BIA will follow up with a proposal that the Councilman can discuss with Planning and the Managing Director’s Office to start.
  • The Councilman said that the budget proposals are challenging and that City Council is working closely with the Administration. Everything is on the table, including tax increases, cuts, and layoffs. All of us will have to take a hit. The deadline to pass the budget is June 30 or the City can’t spend money.
  • City Council is also looking at ways to open the city and Councilman Squilla is encouraging his colleagues to think about operating in new ways and view the situation as an opportunity to get better.
 

Member Comments on Restart

  • Although it is great to be back on-site, productivity is down to 20-30%. Members should be patient and focus on getting your PSO and safety plan in place, acquiring PPE, providing guidance to subs. More than 70% of your time will be spent on safety to start but BIA members must lead by example, believe in the importance of the new protocols, and put them into practice.
 

Click here to view the meeting recording. Access password: 5.6.2020_BIAMM

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