City should use drones to inspect buildings, officials say

Technology push comes after pedestrian killed by falling façade

BOROUGHWIDE — In the wake of the death of a pedestrian killed by a falling façade in midtown Manhattan, Brooklyn elected officials are leading a push to overturn a citywide ban on drones so that the flying devices could be used to conduct inspections of buildings.

Borough President Eric Adams and Councilmember Justin Brannan touted legislation they are proposing at a press conference on Sunday outside City Hall, where they called for the ban to be lifted to enable safety inspections of buildings. Under the bill, drones would be dispatched within 48 hours of a 311 complaint.

New York City law currently prohibits unmanned drones from flying, except in certain designated parks. The law dates back to 1948.

Adams and Brannan also submitted a request to the Independent Budget Office for a cost-benefit analysis of drone inspections versus traditional exterior building inspections.

The shocking death of Erica Tishman, a renowned architect who was killed after being struck by a chunk of the façade of a building at 729 Seventh Ave. (Seventh Avenue and 49th Street) as she was walking at that location on Dec. 17, spurred the lawmakers into action.

Photo by Evan Burr/Borough President’s Office
Borough President Eric Adams holds a drone as he talks about the need to use the devices to inspect buildings. Behind Adams are Councilmembers Justin Brannan (left) and Robert Cornegy Jr.

Calling Tishman’s death “horrific and preventable,” Adams said the city needs forward-thinking solutions to the dilemma of how to inspect high-rises.

“The new legislation I am introducing with Councilmember Justin Brannan will make building inspections more cost-effective, saving building owners and the city millions of dollars, it will help us take down sidewalk sheds that often stay up for years, and most importantly, it will keep New Yorkers safe,” Adams said.

Under New York City law, borough presidents can introduce legislation in the City Council.

“Drone technology is an effective new tool in the toolkit for quicker and cheaper initial façade inspections that should save both lives and money,” said Brannan, a Democrat representing Bay Ridge, Dyker Heights and parts of Bensonhurst.

The New York Post reported that the building at 729 Seventh Ave. had a troubled history prior to Tishman’s death. The Department of Buildings issued a violation to the building owner, 729 Acquisition LLC, in April. The violation required the building owners to pay a $1,250 fine and make immediate repairs to the façade. The fine was paid but the repairs were not made, the Post reported.

Following Tishman’s death, a sidewalk shed was installed at the building.

Carlo Scissura, president and CEO of the New York Building Congress, endorsed the bill.

“What happened to Erica Tishman was a tragic accident that we do not want to see repeated,” he told the Home Reporter.

Other cities have been employing unmanned drones for many years, according to Scissura, who hinted that New York is in danger of falling behind. The New York Building Congress, a trade group that advocates for the construction industry, has been “talking about drones for more than a year,” Scissura said.

Drones were also a topic of discussion at a conference on innovation the congress held in June, he said.

“The city of New York should be a world leader when it comes to incorporating the latest technologies as a means of creating efficiencies in government as well as increased methods for public safety,” Brannan said.

There was also discussion at the City Hall press conference of a second bill that would authorize the New York City Housing Authority to use drones for initial façade inspections on NYCHA developments.

Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr., chairperson of the Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, called for the city’s laws to be updated in the wake of the Tishman tragedy.

“In addition to thoroughly investigating the events leading up to Erica Tishman’s death, we need to be sure to open up the most up-to-date tools to ensure the Façade Inspection and Safety Program meets our city’s needs. The Façade Inspection and Safety Program stems from Local Law 11 of 1998. The local law governing unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, is from 1948. No one could have imagined the technology that would be available to us 71 years ago or 21 years ago,” said Cornegy, a Democrat whose district includes Bedford-Stuyvesant.

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