Housing Complex

D.C. Building Codes Don’t Apply in McPherson Square!

A roof, but no floor. (Maxim Massenkoff)

The endgame of Occupy D.C.'s short-lived attempt to erect a 17-foot-high, wooden-framed structure at McPherson Square featured a strange bit of law enforcement theater: The Park Police called the District's Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency, which tracked down the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs' weekend duty building inspector, who came by and deemed the building structurally unsound. (As if the Park Police needed that as an excuse to boot occupiers off the roof and dismantle their barn).

At Atlantic Cities, Emily Badger identifies the ostensible problem: The building had no foundation. Of course, the building's designers were explicitly trying to avoid that, in order to at least comply with the letter of the National Park Service's prohibition on temporary structures.

But does a DCRA inspector's word actually carry any weight? Nope: Federally-owned lands aren't subject to D.C. building codes, so the inspector's verdict was merely advisory. "We have no jurisdiction over federal parkland," says DCRA spokesman Helder Gil. "Our role there was basically providing the expert opinion as to whether or not that structure was safe and secure, according to D.C. regulations."

Of course, the Park Service's regulations for buildings it does allow could be fairly similar to the District's. Both are based on the International Code Council's model regs, with slight variations that probably don't include something so...foundational...as the need for a floor. So if the Park Service's inspectors had been available at 4:30 p.m. on a Sunday, the result may have been the same.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/collections/ Bossi

    I was intrigued about the DANGER sticker posted to the structure which indicate that people may enter for purposes of making the structure safe... curious if any of the protesters will test out a defense that the police had barred personnel & supplies from being brought in as permitted by the posting.

  • Adam L

    I don't understand why there was even a need to determine the structural integrity. It seems like NPS could choose to enforce the rules that are already in place whenever it would like, but now with 24 hours notice.