Mayor McPartland Makes Avalon Promise: Low Rise Wooden Rebuilding Ruled Out

By Douglas E. Hall

“We’ll make sure nothing like this is built here again,” declared Mayor Michael McPartland as firemen extinguished the last smoldering embers of ruins of what had been the homes to some 1,000 residents (approximately a seventh of Edgewater’s total population) at the Avalon apartments along Undercliff Avenue running south from Russell Avenue.

In a reference to the two fires that had destroyed the Avalon, the first, while it was under construction in 2000, and the second that quickly engulfed the same, then completed and occupied apartments on the night of Wednesday, Jan. 21, Mayor McPartland emphasized, “There is no (third occurrence) charm in this case.”

Yes, homes will be rebuilt but they will be of steel and concrete in a high rise configuration. Mayor McPartland is determined to see to that. Such construction will not burn even if a plumber is allowed into this building using a blow torch. Authorities believed that the fire that destroyed half of the Avalon complex was caused by such a blowtorch, used in a plumbing repair.

Ironically, the two acre site that once housed business offices and factory facilities of Alcoa was to be replaced by high rise apartment housing in the original development plans for this site. Plans were shifted to low rise apartment buildings in response to some residents arguments that high rise construction would block river views from those living on the west side of Undercliff Avenue. View corridors were promised between the proposed high rises, but the pleas for low rise housing prevailed.

A major difference between high rise and low rise are state and local construction codes that permit light weight construction of basically wooden two by fours, in low rise, which is similar to typical construction in one- and two-family houses, while these same codes require fire-proof construction of steel and concrete in high rise buildings.

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  1. Mary Clurman says:

    Check out page 2 of this article:

    A complex in Quincy, MA was also built (then sold) by AvalonBay, subsequently it burned to the ground. Note that it burned despite code upgrades because the construction and the individual construction workers were inadequately supervised, did not follow appropriate procedures. Similar problem to Edgewater, where the unlicensed maintenance crew set the fire off.

    I note the response of Edgewater’s mayor to that fire is to announce that there will be no more low-rise developments, that all will be high-rise steel and concrete. It strikes me that our representatives are stymied by the construction industry, feeling that profit levels for industry must be respected whereas residents’ interests cannot be.

    If compromise is an art, surely it cuts more than one way: do developers give a little and get a lot (yes, we will build safely but we must go high-rise or we will go elsewhere)? Must residents’ concerns that construction be consistent with the neighborhood be trumped in the name of “progress”?

    Where is the art of compromise, wherein all sides benefit: the developer gets to build on prime real estate — whether in Princeton, Edgewater or Maplewood, — and the surrounding communities get to continue the lifestyle that brought them — and yes, will bring others, — to these desirable towns? The developers are willing to sue and to fight. Where is the FIGHT in our “representatives”???

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