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Owner Airs Frustrations on Herald Podcast DCA Nix’es No-Burn Fix In JCOW Condo Morass 4.12.2006

By C.M. Mattessich

Two weeks ago, Glenn Callahan, the attorney for the Joint Construction Office of the Wildwoods (JCOW) pleaded with affected homeowners from Wildwood and North Wildwood to participate in “informal meetings” to address the concerns raised by recent JCOW notifications stating that more than 500 homes in those communities may have been built in violation of fire code requirements.
As an example of the type of agreement that might be reached among owner, builder, architect and JCOW, Callahan said that the Schooner Bay Condominium Association in Wildwood had agreed to the use of “No-Burn Plus” as a fix for walls and ceilings lacking proper fire protection.
No dice, the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) has ruled, in a letter released to the Herald last Friday.
“No” to No-Burn
In the letter, DCA’s Supervisor of Investigations Gerald Grayce states that he has “reviewed the proposal utilizing No-Burn Plus as an alternative to a properly constructed party wall.”
As part of that review, Grayce said, he reviewed both JCOW’s proposal and information provided to him by No-Burn’s manufacturer.
According to videos available on the company’s website (www.noburn.com), No-Burn Plus is a liquid which, painted onto drywall, is not simply fire-resistant but serves as an “intumescent fire reactant” that foams up and creates a cocoon-type covering when heated.  This, according to the company, creates a “char barrier” which makes items “virtually incapable of catching fire.”
If correct, this feature would help prevent the spread of fire in a multi-unit structure – a concern at the heart of fire protection requirements.
In his ruling, Grayce stressed that a party wall has two functions:  “to maintain the required fire-resistance rating for a designated period of time, in this case two (2) hours” and “to withstand structural collapse from either side.”
According to Grayce, no information was provided by either JCOW or the No-Burn company to show that No-Burn Plus was tested or evaluated based on the criteria of applicable fire codes.  Moreover, said Grayce, the company indicated that the substance would have to be reapplied every 10 to 15 years.
“It is my opinion,” said Grayce, “that this product is unacceptable for this situation.”
“Has the possibility of adding an additional layer of 5/8 type X drywall to the wall and ceiling been considered?” he asked Callahan.
Callahan was on vacation and could not be reached for comment before press deadlines.  His office is requesting that communications with him be accomplished by e-mail, but the Herald has learned that homeowners who attempted to contact him as long as 11 days ago via e-mail have had no response.
Homeowners Caught
In ‘Round Robin’
Homeowners of the affected units are expressing growing frustration that the problems at their individual condo units still are not being identified with precision by either local or state authorities, and that no one is “stepping up to the plate” to make fixes.
Eric Satterthwaite purchased his condo at 229 E. Lincoln Avenue in Wildwood in December, after DCA made JCOW aware of fire safety concerns but before either DCA or JCOW notified the public that a serious problem had arisen.
Satterthwaite participated in a Herald podcast last week, describing how his personal situation unfolded and what it means to him and his family.  (The podcast may be heard at www.CapeMayCountyHerald.com.)
Upon receiving notice in February, Satterthwaite said, he made numerous calls to JCOW construction official Mario Zaccharia.
Zaccharia told Satterthwaite that JCOW would “work as quickly as they could to try to resolve the issues” but that JCOW first had to review architect plans and otherwise inspect all 79 affected buildings because the DCA did not provide JCOW with “an official list” of what was wrong with each building.
The upshot?
“What I heard seven weeks ago from JCOW as far as what needed to be fixed,” said Satterthwaite, “is very different from what I’m hearing today.”
In February, according to Satterthwaite, it appeared that all that was needed were “as-built plans” showing certain fire exits that weren’t included in the original drawing.  Now, however, he is being told that there is a possibility that his building has only one layer of horizontal drywall in ceilings where two layers are required to meet fire code;  that a wall and/or fire-safe door are required in the building’s middle units;  and that as-builts must be supplied for review of vertical firewalls.
But no one will confirm that this is an official or final list of problems.
Satterthwaite also was told that the DCA has raised additional concerns that affected buildings might have deficiencies in the areas of handicap accessibility and adaptability.
Satterthwaite noted his reluctance “to be in front of the media.”
“But this is a frustration,” he said.  “It’s a round robin where they all blame each other and no one takes accountability.”
“We’re all getting the runaround,” he said.
Satterthwaite’s condo association has followed up on JCOW’s proposal that individual unit owners sit down with a group of JCOW inspectors and representatives of all professionals involved in building their particular structure.  But, according to Satterthwaite, even that process had a wrench thrown in when the architect’s attorney, Robert Thomson, “made it clear to me that first we have to figure out who has jurisdiction over the fixes:  is it JCOW or is it the DCA?”
On this and other questions – like what exactly is needed, who’s responsible to execute and pay for the fixes, and how soon will they be done – Satterthwaite says he and other owners are being ignored.
“Everybody shrugs their shoulder and looks around,” he said.

229 E. Lincoln Avenue, Wildwood, near the beach, boardwalk and other local attractions, is among 79 structures mired in the JCOW-DCA mess.

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