Volume 18 • Issue 5 | JUNE 24- 2, 20

Permit for diesel is close, despite fire violations

By Ronda Kaysen

The owners of a Tribeca building that has been illegally storing diesel fuel for several years may soon get their day in court, although it may not be the day they were hoping for.

The New York City Fire Department has issued several criminal violations against the owners of the Western Union building at 60 Hudson St. that date back to at least Nov. 2002 and will take them to New York State criminal court in mid July. The Department of Buildings however is close to an agreement to allow large amounts of diesel to be stored in the building.

Downtown Express obtained three violations dating from 2002 through 2004. They cite GVA Williams, L.L.C., the building’s owner, for failure to comply with previous violation orders, failure to install a fire suppression system and failure to obtain a permit for fuel storage.

GVA Williams does not seem terribly phased by the looming court date. “You go to court and tell them [the judge] we’re working this out with the Buildings Department and they allow the city agency to deal with it,” Shaun Mooney, property manager for the company, told Downtown Express after a recent Community Board 1 meeting regarding the building. Mooney’s name and home address appear on two of the violations.

Owners of the Art Deco building have been in negotiations with the city’s Department of Buildings about the diesel fuel it stores – as much as 80,000 gallons by some estimates – for air conditioning used to cool sensitive switching equipment and back-up generators in case of power outages for the building’s telecommunications tenants.

Although diesel fuel is difficult to ignite, when it does catch fire, it often burns uncontrollably, as it did in nearby 7 World Trade Center, which collapsed after burning for several hours on Sept. 11, 2001.

Despite Mooney’s optimism, he is in unfamiliar territory. Criminal violations issued by the Fire Dept. are generally resolved swiftly. It is unusual – and a sign of serious violations – that citations of this kind would remain unresolved for so long, according to the Fire Dept.

“There is a concern from the Fire Dept for the safety of the general public,” said Long, who added that the Fire Dept. has been in ongoing discussions with GVA Williams and the Dept. of Buildings, although he would not elaborate on the details of the discussions. “We’re going to continue to work with them [GVA Williams] as they continue to take the necessary steps in order to comply,” said Long, although he would not elaborate on what those steps are. “There has been some positive feedback and steps taken.”

The imminent court date may never come to pass, however. The Buildings Dept., after three years of negotiations, is close to granting GVA Williams a variance for the fuel storage. “Discussions are nearing a close and we hope to resolve this shortly,” said Jennifer Givner, a Buildings Dept. spokesperson, who indicated a decision may be reached as early as the end of this week. Givner added that the agreement will include upwards of 15 fire safety and precaution requirements that the building owners must comply with – providing the city with a detailed plan – in order to legalize the fuel stored there.

If an agreement is not reached by the July court date, however, an order from a criminal court judge could affect the department’s process. “Obviously, we would oblige by whatever the courts decided,” said Givner. “If the court imposed any restrictions or regulations, we would abide by those.”

The revelation of a history of criminal citations comes as little surprise to residents who have long worried about the building’s safety. The fact that the Fire Dept. did not disclose the violations itself – City Councilmember Alan Gerson acquired the documents and released them to Downtown Express – substantiates longstanding suspicions that the city has been less than forthcoming with the community.

“The building is clearly breaking the law and trying to get waivers to allow it to continue to not comply with current code,” said Tim Lannan, president of Neighbors Against NOISE, a neighborhood organization, and a C.B. 1 member. “Instead of sharing those [violations] with us in a forthright way… the Buildings Dept. continues to proceed without consulting the people who are going to be affected by this and advising us about what the real issues are.” The Fire Dept., Lannan added, failed to respond to a Freedom of Information Law request his organization filed for information on the building’s violations.

Nearby Fire Battalion 1 on Duane St. does not seem especially concerned about 60 Hudson St. “The building is extremely well built and it is maintained perfectly and because of that we normally do not have any problems in that building,” said Battalion Chief Roger Sakowich, adding that several other buildings in the area store diesel fuel as well. Sakowich was unaware of the citations.

The generators and air conditioning units not only create a fire hazard, they also create a good deal of noise.

Last week, representatives from GVA Williams attended a C.B. 1 meeting to discuss possible changes to the building’s façade to alleviate some of the noise. The changes include dramatically increasing the number of louvers that cover many of the landmark building’s windows to funnel noise out of the building.

The owners hope to increase the number of louvers on all sides of the building, covering as much as 65 percent of the windows on some sides of the building. Currently, between 12 percent and 33 percent of the windows are covered with the opaque grating, depending upon the side of the building.

Board members wondered if increasing the number of places where noise can be funneled out of the building would increase – not decrease – the noise level. “Instinctively, you might think the opposite,” Patricia Scanlon, a noise consultant for the company, told board members at the June 16 meeting. “But more louvers means less noise.”

Several board members requested data on current noise levels and projected noise levels, data the building’s owners declined to provide. “That’s a proprietor question,” said Kenneth Pliska, an engineer consultant for the owners.

The building conducted a noise study several years ago, the results of which the community has never seen.

The board decided not to take action on the request until data on noise levels could be provided. “We can’t consider this until we have the facts and we don’t want to consider this until we have the facts,” said board member Marc Donnenfeld.

The company has not indicated when it will provide the information.

Ronda@DowntownExpress.com

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