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Investigation continues into massive Edgewater fire

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EDGEWATER, NJ (PIX11) -- Residents, as well as the the largest building and maintenance workers union in the country, are raising questions about the developer of the Avalon Apartment complex that burned down this week. Kevin Brown, the New Jersey State Director of 32BJ SEIU, says the company has a history of cutting corners. Brown represents workers who have been employed at AvalonBay job sites.

The developer, AvalonBay Communities, has a market value of about $23 billion dollars, according to the company's website. They've developed upscale apartment communities across our region and the rest of the country. AvalonBay's website lists at over 20 properties in New York, at least 23 communities in New Jersey and 10 in Connecticut. The company recently posted a job listing for a regional safety manager. But Brown was critical Friday.

"They have a horrible record of safety violations and buildings burning to the ground," he said. 32BJ has published two scathing reports focused on alleged fire, safety and labor violations by the developer. One report connects AvalonBay to nearly 200 federal citations.

In 2012, news reports detail how an AvalonBay building in Garden City, Long Island burned in a fire.

In 2011, local media in Quincy, Massachusetts told a similar story. Reports there say an AvalonBay building burned and that faulty firewalls were to blame.

Just last year, an AvalonBay building under construction in Boston reportedly collapsed while 120 workers were on the job. Fortunately, reports say only 2 were injured.

"AvalonBay has a repeated history of these things happening," Brown says. In reference to repeat fires at the Avalon apartment community in Edgewater, he added: "And it's not a coincidence that it happened again."

The Avalon apartment complex in Edgewater first burned down in 2000, when it was under construction.

"I mean twice in 14 years? You would tend to think that lightening doesn't strike twice," commented neighboring resident, Ellena Calabria, whose home was badly damaged in the 2000 fire. She was displaced for 5 months the first time. Today, she was able to return home for the first time since the blaze on Wednesday. Residents whose homes were not destroyed were able to briefly get into their homes this morning. Police and the fire department also allowed some to get their cars out of a lower level garage beneath one of the buildings.

Bergen County Executive Jim Tedesco announced at a press conference Friday afternoon that power was restored to the neighborhood and residents whose homes were intact could go home. Schools in Edgewater will re-open Monday.

PIX11 asked Tedesco and Edgewater Fire Chief Tom Jacobson if the plumbers who accidentally started the fire Wednesday afternoon were licensed. Officials declined to answer. They referred the news media and residents who were present to a forthcoming official report on the fire.

PIX11 also asked an AvalonBay Communities spokesman for an interview or comment on this story Friday morning, but did not receive any response before airtime.

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