City officials discuss construction-site safeguards

By: Victoria Mitchell | Royal Oak Review | Published November 5, 2014

 A locked fence barricades a Pleasant Ridge residential construction site. Royal Oak city officials are deliberating on how to manage construction locations.

A locked fence barricades a Pleasant Ridge residential construction site. Royal Oak city officials are deliberating on how to manage construction locations.

Photo by Victoria Mitchell

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ROYAL OAK — When Mayor Pro Tem David Poulton drove through neighboring communities recently and noticed protected construction sites, he quickly became disenchanted with his hometown.

“When I came back to Royal Oak, what I saw was a mess,” Poulton said.

He saw open holes, mounds of dirt with teetering construction equipment, materials all over the place and portable toilets in the neighborhoods.

“I was just amazed that we in this city would allow something like that,” Poulton said.

Poulton and other members of the Royal Oak City Commission would like to see enforceable ordinances governing best practices for ongoing construction sites, and notably for residential neighborhoods.

Poulton requested during the commission’s Oct. 20 meeting that city employees honor his request for suggestions on construction-site safeguards. Poulton said he requested this information from building officials four months ago.

“One of the most important features that we have to make sure is the community’s safety, so I think having the fencing around these sites when they aren’t working would secure the sites and not allow people to get into it,” Poulton said.

  Mayor Jim Ellison said this is a new problem for the City of Royal Oak, as construction is picking up — namely demolition of existing houses to build new homes in established neighborhoods. Ellison said Royal Oak is breaking records with the amount of new construction.

City Manager Don Johnson said the city has conducted some research into how serious the situation is and how many injuries have occurred. Johnson said the city has experienced zero injuries due to unattended construction sites.

“We shouldn’t wait until a child is impaled on a stray piece of rebar to pass an ordinance about it,” said City Commissioner Kyle DuBuc.

DuBuc echoed Poulton’s sentiments and said that there should be some type of standard. He said that frustration is rising from residents.

He wants to minimize the negative impact of issues like metal tubes with jagged edges sitting in the right-of-way for weeks and months at a time, which he personally has seen in his neighborhood. 

“What I do see are some legitimate risks and complaints from residents that we can do better, and I’m asking, ‘Can we do better?’” DuBuc said.

Jim Clarke, president of Robertson Brothers Homes, said he has been involved in construction projects with and without safeguards. 

“We’ve not seen any difference in losses or accidents on sites which have them versus don’t,” Clarke said.

Clarke said safeguards would add more costs to new construction, estimating about $4,000 for fencing to an average house.

A divide existed during the Oct. 20 meeting on how to deal with the issue. Mayor Jim Ellison said he would rather focus on the individual problems happening at the construction sites than making a broad, sweeping ordinance.

“Let’s tighten up on those rules rather than erecting a fence and giving a false sense of security that that is going to solve all of those ills,” Ellison said.

Commissioner Sharlan Douglas agreed. She wants to make sure that the answer is not a solution in search of a problem.

“Let’s make sure we identify what the problems are and ask the staff for solutions to those problems,” Douglas said.

The topic is expected to be addressed at a future meeting. Ellison suggested using orange snow fencing in the interim.

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