Owner Of D.C. Building That Collapsed Failed To Install Covered Walkway On Sidewalk Two pedestrians had just walked by the building on Florida Ave. NE earlier this month when it collapsed. City permits show the building owner said they would install a covered walkway on the sidewalk.
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Owner Of D.C. Building That Collapsed Failed To Install Covered Walkway On Sidewalk

A building along Florida Avenue NE that was being converted into housing collapsed on Jan. 15, barely missing two pedestrians who had just walked by. They suffered minor injuries. D.C. Fire & EMS/Twitter hide caption

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D.C. Fire & EMS/Twitter

When the building on the corner of Florida Avenue and Staples Street NE collapsed suddenly two weeks ago, debris crashed down on the sidewalk below — narrowly missing two people who had just walked by. But city documents now show that the owner of the building did not install a covered walkway on that very stretch of sidewalk as they said they would, increasing the likelihood that pedestrians below could have been injured.

The covered walkway, which would have run along the side of the property facing Florida Avenue, was included in a Traffic Control Plan submitted by the owner as a part of their permits to convert the two-story commercial space into a four-story, 18-unit residential building.

Traffic Control Plans are submitted to the District Department of Transportation when construction is expected to occupy public space. In this case, in lieu of closing the sidewalk — which is only approved as a last resort — the owner said they would put up the covered walkway, which would have served to protect pedestrians from any falling debris from the construction site.

The covered walkway on the sidewalk along Florida Avenue NE was included in plans submitted to the city by the building's owner, but was never installed. Provided by/District Department of Transportation hide caption

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Provided by/District Department of Transportation

The sidewalk on the Staples Street side of the building was partially blocked off with a chain-link fence, but the covered walkway along the Florida Avenue side was never installed. And the threat of falling debris became very real on Jan. 15 when the facade suddenly collapsed onto the sidewalk below. The collapse was caught on tape by a resident's outdoor security camera across the street, showing two pedestrians walking only a few feet beyond the building when its wall came crashing down.

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The building is owned and being converted by Dila Development and Construction. In an emailed statement, an attorney for the company said the work that was done on the building was done legally.

"The owner is still reviewing and working with all necessary agencies in the District of Columbia to ensure the safety and stabilization of the site," the statement said. "The owner performed work in accordance with permits issued and is working with the appropriate agencies to ensure that the work is completed safely after this unfortunate accident."

But Lauren Stephens, a spokeswoman for DDOT, said the city had issued Dila notice of violation, which brings with it a fine.

"This [Traffic Control Plan] was submitted but never paid for or installed, so the contractor was occupying public space illegally," said Stephens in an email.

And the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has issued the company a stop-work order for illegal construction on the property. An official with knowledge of the situation said the order was issued to stop any further work on the site while plans for the building are revised and that a covered walkway would ultimately be installed along the sidewalk.

The incident ties into a broader debate that has been happening across D.C. in recent years over accommodations for pedestrians and cyclists when construction projects take up public space, primarily sidewalks and bike lanes. In 2014, D.C. started enforcing a law more strictly requiring that developers and contractors provide alternate routes when they block sidewalks or bike lanes. But advocates say that enforcement can still be spotty.

"[D.C.] made up some pretty specific guidelines, and they're never followed even when DDOT goes out to enforce, which only happens when people complain enough," says Jon Renaut, a Ward 1 resident who has pushed for safe accommodations to be provided more consistently.

Other advocates also say the building owner is to blame.

"Pedestrians around our city already face a variety of safety risks," says Priscilla Magee, a member of the D.C. Pedestrian Advisory Council, which offers official guidance and insight to the city's government on pedestrian-related issued. "For this developer to provide such inadequate safety measures to protect those passing by is completely unacceptable."

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