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March 18, 2013

Oneonta enacted first building code 60 years ago

There will be no parade, fireworks display or commemorative coins minted for the occasion. It might bring about a shrug or yawn from some, or invite some remarks from a landlord or two we probably couldn’t print here.

The occasion is a building code. It was 60 years ago yesterday that Oneonta adopted such a code for the first time in its history. While not cause for festive celebration, adopting the code was important, as local history proved tragically almost 30 years later in the city, when incidents at rental houses claimed the lives of three college students.

Common Council adopted the state’s new performance code for buildings Tuesday, March 17, 1953. Mayor Roger G. Hughes appointed Grover C. Lamphere as the first building inspector. Among Lamphere’s duties was to look after buildings within the city, inspection and enforcement of a recently enacted state multiple dwelling law, specifying safety factors in buildings housing three or more families, and enforcing the city’s zoning ordinance.

Actual inspections began Monday, Jan. 25, 1954, when Lamphere and Oneonta Fire Chief Joseph M. Scanlon began visits to the 365 registered multiple dwellings in the city, all to be checked on their degree of compliance with the state law. Property owners received reports on the inspections, and were guided in making any required alterations.

Code enforcement changed locally since the 1950s. The city later adopted a housing code in 1976. With the decline of Oneonta’s railroad industry, many single-family homes had been subdivided as landlords met an increasing demand for off-campus college housing. By 1982, the city had nearly 2,000 rental units.

With such a significant increase in rental properties, a call for more stringent inspections began after three deaths in 1982. Fires occurred at 116 Chestnut St. and 24 Cedar St., and a carbon monoxide poisoning claimed another life at 43 Center St.

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