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In re Analysis of Walsh Trucking Occupancy and Sprinkler System

Decided: February 19, 1987.

IN THE MATTER OF THE "ANALYSIS OF WALSH TRUCKING OCCUPANCY AND SPRINKLER SYSTEM"


On appeal from Hackensack Meadowlands, Construction Board of Appeals.

Michels and Skillman. The opinion of the court was delivered by Skillman, J.A.D.

Skillman

[215 NJSuper Page 224] Appellant, Walsh Trucking Company, receives, consolidates and ships clothing to major department stores throughout the country. It operates the business from a building in North Bergen Township which it has leased since 1978. This building contains a garment handling and conveyance rack system (the rack system) installed by appellant when it commenced operations. The rack system consists of a monorail and trolleys, which are located on two tiers in one part of the building and on three tiers in another part. Clothing is brought to the building, attached to trolleys, and transported through the multi-tiered monorail system. Sorting, counting, inspecting and loading are done at different locations within the system. Although the building is not used for warehousing, some clothing is left on the rack system at the end of the workweek.

The sprinkler system presently in the building does not include any in-rack sprinklers. In the event of fire, sprinklers located on the ceiling would provide a flow of water from the ceiling through gridlike, metal catwalks on the second and third tiers of the rack system, and around any garments hanging on the rack system, to the floor area below.

On February 7, 1979, appellant applied to the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission (HMDC) for a certificate of occupancy for the building. When the HMDC questioned the adequacy of appellant's sprinkler system, appellant submitted two engineering reports which vouched for its adequacy.

The engineering staff of the HMDC rejected these reports and issued its own report to the construction official of North Bergen which recommended that appellant be required to install a sprinkler system within the rack system. The HMDC summary accompanying this report stated in part:

After a thorough analysis of this matter we have concluded that the existing sprinkler system is inadequate for the occupancy of this building by Walsh Trucking. Their installation of a new multi-level rack system for hanging garments has completely changed the character of this occupancy.

Hanging garments on a multiple level rack system are a unique occupancy and present a severe fire hazard if not properly sprinklered. An in-rack sprinkler system must be provided. In addition it may be necessary to upgrade or replace the existing roof level system. This system should be designed by a Licensed Fire Protection Engineer with experience in this particular type of occupancy and in accordance with the latest and highest standards of accepted engineering practice, which at this point we believe is Factory Mutual Data Sheet 8-18.

The North Bergen construction official adopted the HMDC report in its entirety. He made a factual finding that "the existing sprinkler system is inadequate for the occupancy of this building by Walsh Trucking Company." Accordingly, on February 24, 1984, he ordered appellant "to provide sprinkler protection for this facility in accordance with the design criteria specified in [Factory Mutual Data Sheet 8-18], with the exception that sprinkler shields may be provided in lieu of plywood decking."

Appellant appealed this decision to respondent, Hackensack Meadowlands District Construction Board of Appeals (HMD Board). There was a long delay in scheduling a hearing on the appeal because of difficulties in assembling a quorum. When the hearing was ultimately conducted, the HMD Board affirmed the decision of the North Bergen construction official.

We agree with the HMD Board's conclusion that a construction official may under appropriate circumstances require compliance with standards different from those expressly adopted by the Commissioner of Community Affairs. However, we also conclude that the hearing held by the HMD Board was procedurally deficient. Therefore, we reverse and remand for a new hearing.*fn1

The regulatory legislation pursuant to which the construction official and HMD Board acted is the State Uniform Construction Code Act, N.J.S.A. 52:27D-119 et seq. This legislation directs the Commissioner of Community Affairs to adopt a State Uniform Construction Code, N.J.S.A. 52:27D-123a, including a fire prevention subcode, N.J.S.A. 52:27D-123b. It also provides that subcodes shall be adoptions of the model codes of the Building Officials and Code Administrators International, Inc. (BOCA), unless the Commissioner determines for "good reasons" to adopt a model code of some other ...


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