Avalon Bay to rebuild, but fears of fire remain

Photo by Daniel Jackovino

MAPLEWOOD, NJ — Maplewood was stunned last week when a six-alarm fire tore through the Avalon Apartments construction site on Feb. 4, destroying approximately two-thirds of the site — luckily the flames stayed away from the finished portions.

The fire, which took approximately four hours and 120 firefighters to extinguish, destroyed the work already done on phases 2 and 3 of the Avalon Bay redevelopment project, which will create 235 luxury apartments on the former PSE&G site on Boyden Avenue.

While the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office told the News-Record that it has not yet determined a cause for the fire, the township is determined to prevent it from happening again.

According to Maplewood Mayor Vic DeLuca, the township held a meeting with engineering, building, fire and development officials to discuss fire safety and the future of the site.

The fear of another fire is not unwarranted considering fire previously destroyed an Avalon Bay building in Edgewater — twice. Avalon Bay’s apartment building on Russell Avenue in Edgewater caught fire in 2000, destroying nine homes across the street on Undercliff Avenue and displacing 39 families. Avalon Bay rebuilt the building, only to have it burn down again in February 2015.

“We are going to insist that if they do build — and we want them to build, because this is an important part of our redevelopment effort for the eastern portion of Springfield Avenue — that we will require a higher level of fire safety plan,” DeLuca said at the Feb. 7 Township Committee meeting. “We will be negotiating with them on the means and methods on which they can do the construction.”

Committeewoman India Larrier said that while property owner Avalon Bay had agreed to an increased standard of fire safety, those precautions were not yet in place as the site was still under construction. The completed portion, where the precautions were likely already in place, did not burn.

DeLuca stated that Avalon Bay took out a demolition permit Feb. 7 and intends to rebuild the units destroyed by the blaze.

“In the interim, the township will hire a structural engineer that Avalon will pay for,” DeLuca said, explaining that the structural engineer will make sure that the completed portion of the redevelopment is structurally sound and is free from issues such as mold or water damage.

Additionally, DeLuca said the township has met with other local developers to discuss fire safety and ensure maximum fire protection.

While the fire certainly sets things back, DeLuca hopes to see work beginning again in March.

“I assume that the demolition and cleanup will probably take place the rest of February and we should see some building out there beginning in March,” DeLuca said.