Volume 18 • Issue 8 | July 15-21, 2005

Downtown Express photo by Elisabeth Robert

Attorney Norman Siegel joined politicians and residents outside 60 Hudson St. Sunday to protest the Buildings Dept. variance allowing more diesel fuel to be stored on individual floors.

Pols and tenants burning over diesel decision

By Claire F. Hamilton

With London’s recent terrorist attacks still fresh in their minds, Lower Manhattan community leaders met in Tribeca Sunday morning to demand the Department of Buildings rescind a conditional variance at 60 Hudson St. The variance would ease restrictions on the amount of diesel fuel on single floors inside a telecommunications hub housing more than 80,000 gallons of it. Fuel-powered, emergency generators are located on six of the building’s twenty-four floors, though most of the fuel is underground.

The variance, issued June 29, follows longstanding fire code violations and comes just weeks before the building’s management company, GVA Williams, was to appear in criminal court.

“The facts of this building have never been challenged,” said Tim Lannan, president of Neighbors Against N.O.I.S.E. The local community activist group has been involved with complaints against the building since 1996, when air conditioners and generators were considered a noise problem. More recently, the group and elected officials called for a full-scale security assessment inside 60 Hudson St. Lannan said the Buildings Dept. was not communicative until after the variance was issued, and that only six of the building’s twenty-four stories were adequately assessed for safety purposes. “It’s been a closed door process,” he said.

Specifically at issue are single floors holding more than one fuel tank and the storage of the highly combustible material within 1,000 feet of the subway and schools. “We feel there’s an enormous safety and security risk, especially in light of what happened in London,” said Julie Menin, chairperson of Community Board 1.

The statement issued by Buildings calls the telecom hotel “a vital part of New York City’s business community” for its role in providing telecommunication service to the region. Space constraints were said to pose a practical difficulty in complying with building code regulations. The conditions of the variance include two-hour, fire resistant walls to enclose fuel tank rooms, a dry-pipe sprinkler system on loading docks and stricter governance of manual filling. The effect of the variance would be to provide up to four hours of back-up power to multiple tenants.

The safety assessment and conditions were determined in part by Arep, a risk consulting group. Jennifer Givner, a Buildings spokesperson, said: “We had the best and brightest engineers to help us with the twenty-four points.” Acknowledging the inherent dangers to diesel fuel storage anywhere, she said, “Where else are we going to put the fuel?”

Large quantities of diesel fuel are known to be stored elsewhere in the city. For protesters, the Hudson St. building’s proximity to the World Trade Center magnified its vulnerability as a terrorist target. U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler compared the city’s decision to a stab in the backs of community members. “It’s very hard to believe that we stand here today only a few blocks from the World Trade Center to demand that the D.O.B. stop ignoring the safety and health of people in Lower Manhattan,” he said. The Hudson Street building contains more than twice the amount of fuel than did 7 World Trade Center, the collapse of which surprised many and was ultimately explained in part by raging, diesel fuel fires.

“Diesel fires are among the most difficult fires to contain,” said Councilmember Alan Gerson, who pressed the urgency of appealing the variance. The N.O.I.S.E. group is raising money to appeal the variance by the July 29 deadline. “In the immediate days ahead, the Buildings Department has an obligation to immediately implement available safety measures. The city is at an orange alert level…there is a reason we have these barricades,” referring to security barriers around the building.

The city building code, which hasn’t been significantly revised since 1968, is currently undergoing massive revisions. A new version is expected for July 2006. One of the technical committees involved is dealing with fuel storage issues.

Norman Siegel, attorney for Neighbors Against N.O.I.S.E., carried his draft Sunday of a formal complaint against the building. The group is likely to appeal the variance with the Board of Standards and Appeals and may file a lawsuit if it is denied. “I’ll make this a very large public issue,” he said.

State Senator Martin Connor pointed to Lower Manhattan’s bolstered image as a residential neighborhood. “The city can’t have it both ways,” he said. “It can’t encourage people to move in, and then expose them to risks.”

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