BY JAIMIE JULIA WINTERS
Citing safety concerns, Montclair is now requiring business owners who use tents or igloos to extend their operations outdoors to get permits and be inspected.
Last week business owners received letters from the township that the structures will not be allowed after Nov. 30 without a building permit and certificate of occupancy.
“With winter coming these types of structures face many different safety concerns that are not present in the warmer months. We understand and have compassion for the position you as business owners find yourself in during this pandemic. The life, health and safety of all occupants of these structures must be assured,” construction official Samuel J. Souza wrote.
Now business owners are scrambling to get permits and be inspected.
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According to both fire and construction officials, the structures have always required a permit; it’s not something new. It just wasn’t enforced.
Montclair Health Director Sue Portuese said local health departments have had discussions about these structures on conference calls with state officials because of issues concerning proper ventilation and fire safety.
Coming into the winter months, the township is concerned with the increasing use of electricity and heaters within the tents or “igloos,” and in the case of heavy snow.
But some business owners said that they are not being given enough time, especially with Thanksgiving falling before the Nov. 30 deadline.
DFIT owner Daniela Costanzo said Souza hand-delivered the letter on Thursday, but there was little information given. She said she later found out that she would have to get a land survey and hire an architect in order to apply for a permit for her 40-by-60-foot tent. She rented the tent in October from a professional tent company that installed it in her Erie Street parking lot and checks on it every other week.
“People are just not comfortable going indoors,” Costanzo said about her decision to rent the tent for the fitness classes she holds seven days a week for 30 people each.
Todd Greenwald, owner of Kidville, said he inquired about a permit when he installed his 600-square-foot tent, but was told he wouldn’t need one. The tent allows for a class of up to 20 people for his music, art and dance classes. He is also concerned with the short notice and timing of the letter.
The Kidville and DFIT tents don’t have heaters or electricity, as the classes are held mostly during the day and clients are moving around. But for restaurants such as Salute and Cafe Mosa, where diners will be seated, lights and heaters will be a must for their outdoor tents going into winter.
Salute has installed seven “igloos,” sturdy, bubble-like tents becoming common for outdoor dining in New Jersey.
“It’s going to be like a winter wonderland,” owner Gerry Cerrigone has said. “It will be heated, so you can sit outside [with] up to six guests per an igloo. If it’s snowing or it’s a little chilly out, you’ll be inside and you’ll be warm [while it’s] snowing around you.”
Souza was not available to give specifics on the permit process and whether the business owners would have to get a land survey and engage an architect.
According to state law, all vendors with tents/canopies are required to apply for a Type 1O15 fire safety permit issued by the state Division of Fire Safety for the following: tents/canopies greater than 900 square feet with or without side panels• ; tents/canopies greater than 30 feet in any dimension• ; tents/canopies that will remain in place for 180 days• ; and tents/canopies that do not have a permanent anchoring system or foundation.
The law also states that tents/canopies must be constructed of fire-retardant materials or be properly treated with flame retardants. Structures less than 900 square feet in area or less and 30 feet or less in any dimension without platforms or bleachers do not require a permit.
Costanzo said she reached out to Lynette Brubaker, who is on the township’s newly formed COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, hoping that the businesses would be given more time.
“Permits for tents and other structures are required by state law and are regulated under the NJ Administrative Code and Uniform Construction Code. These are long-standing requirements, including the Nov. 30 start date. They were put in place to ensure the safety of the businesses and their patrons. As such, the township does not have the authority to provide special dispensation to exempt businesses from the permit requirements. That would be illegal,” said township Communications Director Katya Wowk.
The basic permit cost is $50, but if the structure includes electrical wiring and heating sources, the cost will increase, because the fire department will need to inspect it and issue a permit, said Wowk.
“The BID is aware of this issue and we are diligently working alongside the other districts in town to try and find a comprehensive solution to this new wrinkle. This could potentially have a negative effect on our businesses that are utilizing tents as a means to remaining in business. We are encouraging that all of our businesses that are using tents to contact the township building department as soon as possible to start the application process,” said BID Executive Director Jason Gleason.