New developments related to Milstein and Rand Halls

On Sept. 19, 2013, the Capital Region-Syracuse board of Review voted not to re-open the hearing held on July 18, 2013 challenging various Building Code rulings made by the City of Ithaca (see previous Milstein Hall blog posts). I had requested that this hearing be re-opened, and had been prepared to challenge some prior rulings, and to ask for clarification on other rulings. My arguments can be found here.

Charles Bliss, Senior Building Construction Engineer with the Department of State Department of Code Enforcement and Administration, called me on Sept. 19, 2013 and said that (1) Cornell is applying for a Code variance in order to keep the Fine Arts Library on the 3rd floor of Rand Hall; and (2) the Hearing Board was not interested in providing further clarification as to whether Appendix K of the 2002 NYS Building Code permits additions to exceed the allowable areas based on Chapter 5 of the Code, since they felt that Section K902.2 of the Code states clearly that unlimited building area for additions is allowed when they are separated by fire barriers.

Based on this information, I send an email to Charles Bliss (copied to the City of Ithaca and Cornell) asking for formal notification of any such variance or hearing connected with a variance:

From: Jonathan Ochshorn
Date: Friday, September 20, 2013 9:45 AM
To: Charles Bliss
Cc: Mike Niechwiadowicz , Gary Norbert Wilhelm
Subject: Variance for A-3 occupancy in Rand Hall, Cornell, Ithaca, NY

Hi Charles,
In our phone conversation yesterday, you mentioned that Cornell University was seeking a variance in order that the library occupancy on the 3rd floor of Rand Hall at Cornell could remain in place (or even be expanded to the 2nd floor; I’m not clear what this variance requests), in spite of the recent finding by the Capital Region-Syracuse Board of Review that placing an A-3 occupancy on the 3rd floor of this Type V-B building violates provisions of the NYS Building Code.

Given that I am the petitioner who appealed the initial code enforcement official’s decision permitting this noncompliant occupancy of Rand Hall, I request to be formally notified of any such variance or appeal by Cornell, or any other party, to overturn or modify this decision, and of any hearing to review such a request.

Because the City of Ithaca initially ruled that the A-3 occupancy was compliant, and because this decision was overturned by the Board of Review, I believe it would be inappropriate for the City of Ithaca to then effectively overturn the Board’s decision by ruling in favor of a variance request without holding a hearing. Instead, any such variance should be submitted to a State board of Review.

Please note that there is no economic burden involved in making the library occupation compliant without a variance: Cornell is already planning extensive renovations of the 3rd floor of Sibley Hall and could provide a fire-resistive rating for the wood-framed exterior walls of the third floor, thereby upgrading the construction type of Sibley-Milstein-Rand Halls from V-B to III-B: this is all that was ever required to make both the Milstein and Rand Hall projects compliant in terms of allowable height and area. Given the $50 million price tag for Milstein Hall, such a small additional expense cannot reasonably be deemed to be a burden.

I also requested a Code Interpretation as to whether Appendix K of the 2002 NYS Building Code permits additions to have unlimited floor area if separated by a fire barrier.

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