AvalonBay N.J. Waterfront Apartments Destroyed in Fire

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A fire destroyed much of an AvalonBay Communities Inc. apartment complex near the Hudson River waterfront in northern New Jersey, displacing residents of the 408 units.

The Edgewater Police Department and a Bergen County arson squad are investigating the blaze that began Wednesday afternoon at the Avalon at Edgewater, a two-building development across the river from upper Manhattan. The fire spread quickly, in part because of the complex’s wood construction, Edgewater Fire Chief Thomas Jacobson said at a press conference Thursday morning.

“A lot of it has collapsed,” Jacobson said. “If it was made of cinder block and concrete, we wouldn’t have this problem.”

No one was killed or injured and no one was missing, Jacobson said. Evacuated residents were offered temporary housing at local hotels, according to the borough of Edgewater’s Facebook page.

AvalonBay said one building at the complex, with 257 apartments, is uninhabitable, and the company is evaluating the extent of damage to the second structure, according to a statement. Losses from the fire will be “substantially covered” by insurance and won’t have a material effect on the company’s finances, the company said.

AvalonBay is working with the Red Cross and local authorities to assist displaced residents, Chief Operating Officer Sean Breslin said in the statement.

Embers Smoldering

The borough declared a state of emergency on Thursday, closing schools and restricting traffic on some roads, according to its Twitter page.

Embers beneath the rubble of the complex were still smoldering Thursday morning, and firefighters planned to douse them later in the day, Jacobson said.

“We’re going to get a crane in here and we’re going to start picking apart the building,” he said.

The complex was built using wood-frame construction, “a standard, common and safe method” for multifamily housing, Michael Feigin, AvalonBay’s chief construction officer, said in an e-mailed statement on Thursday.

“The community was built in accordance with the fire and safety codes applicable at the time,” he said. “The purpose of those codes is not to prevent the building from burning down, but rather to ensure that there is sufficient time and opportunity for all occupants to exit safely in the event of a fire.”

$80 Million

AvalonBay spent almost $80 million to build the complex, which was completed in 2002, according to regulatory filings by the Arlington, Virginia-based company. It was 97 percent occupied in 2013, AvalonBay said in its most recent annual report. Monthly rents averaged $2,627.

Amenities at the gated luxury complex included a heated outdoor swimming pool, a resident clubhouse and gas fireplaces in some apartments, according to the property’s website.

It was the second fire at the site. In 2000, the complex, then under construction, was leveled. Jacobson said nine homes in the area were also destroyed in that blaze.

AvalonBay, the biggest publicly traded U.S. apartment landlord after Equity Residential, owns or has a stake in communities in 11 states and the District of Columbia, with a total of 82,333 units.