The Fire Trucks Have to Get There Too

By Austin Regan

All of the easy sites have been built on already. Today’s developments are occurring on problematic properties. They may have soil hazmat issues or are located too close to transit tunnels or too far from utilities. We are starting to see examples of land-locked sites being developed. Building Code section BC 501.3.1 requires a new building to have at least 8% of it’s perimeter to be along a street frontage. For the wall to qualify it must be within 30 feet of the street line. The reason for the minimum perimeter requirements is to allow the Fire Department access to the building during an emergency.

When the configuration of the site does not allow the building to meet the above requirements, zoning does permit the creation of private roads as outlined in ZR 26-20. A building with more than 8% of it’s perimeter fronting on a private road would meet the requirements of BC 501.3.1. Private roads must be constructed similar to public streets and are required to have curbs, sidewalks and street trees. The roads can be expensive to construct and take up a lot of space on site.

Another solution that the DOB may accept is a Fire Apparatus Access Road complying with section FC 503 of the Fire Code. Certain aspects of the zoning code’s private road requirements dovetail with that of the Apparatus Access Road such as a similar minimum width requirement but other items such as curbs and street trees are not needed. The construction of the Apparatus Access Road can also be closer to a driveway standard than the City street equivalence of the private road.

Even if the proposed Apparatus Access Road meets all the requirements of FC 503 FDNY review and approval is still required. The FDNY’s Bureau of Operations, Office of City Planning has jurisdiction. As part of compliance with FC 503 they will want information regarding existing street widths, curb cuts and other objects on the sidewalk. They will ask for turning radius analysis (there are computer programs for this) to ensure that their ladder trucks can get in and out of the site. The review process can be lengthy and DOB approval will be contingent on obtaining it.

Once obtained DOB will normally waive the 8% perimeter frontage requirement but it must be requested on a case by case basis. In the cases of land-locked sites, the FDNY Fire Apparatus Access Road may be the only way to successfully develop a location.