Volume 18 • Issue 32 | December 23 - 30, 2005

Gerson backs new noise code after last-minute changes

By Albert Amateau

The Bloomberg administration’s noise code, the first new version in 30 years, won the overwhelming approval of the City Council Wednesday after last minute changes that addressed some concerns of Councilmember Alan Gerson and other critics.

The 40-page legislation came before the Council environmental committee a week earlier provoked loud complaints from Gerson and Tim Lannan, president of Neighbors Against NOISE, a Tribeca environmental group. They said the new code would not relieve the unrelenting sound from 60 Hudson St., where telecommunications tenants run air conditioners 24/7 to cool delicate electronic switches and also have loud backup generators.

But at a committee meeting the morning before the full Council session on Dec. 21, new provisions were included to allow the code to be improved during the year-long period for drafting rules for implementing the code.

“We’ve made some progress but we still have work to do,” Gerson told Downtown Express on Wednesday.

A key change is the addition of a peer review panel of acoustic experts to be created by the Council and be independent of the Department of Environmental Protection. The panel will consult with the city on implementation rules.

“The D.E.P. claims the new code would solve the problem of 60 Hudson St., but the community’s consultants believe it wouldn’t. The peer review panel will be an independent voice in the process,” Gerson said. “We will be able to amend the code further before the rules are adopted.”

The last-minute changes also allow regulation of noise from metal plates that cover street excavations as well as noise from party boats and other sources, Gerson noted. But he acknowledged that motorcycle noise was not adequately covered in the code. “The code makes no mention about the kinds of mufflers that can be used on a vehicle,” said Gerson, who nevertheless voted for the measure.

“I was also able to insist on special rules for noise in sensitive areas — near schools and hospitals or nursing homes,” Gerson added.

The code also calls for an advisory committee to consult with D.E.P. on construction noise. Prior to the changes on Wednesday, the advisory committee was to be made up exclusively industry representatives. “We added some advisory members to be appointed by the Council – to represent a broader community interest,” Gerson added

Mayor Bloomberg issued a statement on Wednesday saying, “I am proud my administration proposed and now the Council passed, the first comprehensive revision of the code in 30 years. The legislation has been a collaboration between the city, the construction and nightlife industries, neighborhood groups and the Council.”

But in the wake of the committee hearing on Dec 14, the attorney for the New York Nightlife Association, Robert Bookman, urged the legislation be deferred. “This is a once-in-a-generation legislation,” he said. “It’s so technical that if you ask 10 people what it would do, you’d get 10 different opinions.”

Intro 397A went to the Council committee on Dec. 13 the day before the hearing with several amendments to the original proposed in January of this year. Gerson said it was “no way to do business.”

After that hearing, Lannan issued a statement reversing his January endorsement of the new code.

The code says that when a new circulation device (such as an air conditioner) is installed in a building, the cumulative sound of all such devices should not exceed 45 decibels. It also says that any circulation device installed prior to the effective date of the code, a year from its adoption, cannot exceed 42 decibels. But it goes on to say that if the cumulative level of all devices in a building exceeds 50 decibels, the Department of Environmental Protection may order the owner to reduce the sound by five decibels to 45 decibels within 12 months.

Lannan said, “No building, tenant, or equipment should be exempt or grandfathered,” He also reasoned that in order to adequately measure the decibels of any individual tenant in 60 Hudson St., all the other tenants would have to shut down their noise-making equipment. Such a shutdown would be impractical because of the sensitive electronics, he said. “If it is impossible to measure noise produced by one tenant, it is impossible to enforce the code.”

Lannan also said that the cumulative noise level from 60 Hudson St. has already exceeded 70 decibels as measured from an apartment across the street. “With Intro 397A we could be subject to even more noise as more tenants add equipment,” he said.

Moreover, Lannan demanded that the code regulate the noise level contributed to the overall sound by equipment other than circulation devices – specifically by back-up diesel-fueled emergency generators.

Gerson said the code has a loophole that makes it easier for projects to get permits for after-hours construction work although it does, includes a general construction prohibition on weekends and on weekdays before 7 a.m. and after 8 p.m.

The code also authorizes police to shut off burglar alarms on parked cars after they’ve been blaring for three minutes and also allows the police to shut off building burglar alarms after they’ve been on for 15 minutes.

Lee Compton, chairperson of Community Board, 4 covering Chelsea, submitted testimony last week that also found a problem with after hours and weekend construction. permits.

“Rather than committing to uphold the current standard, the revisions codify the current practice of awarding the [after hours and weekend] permits in almost any situation,” Compton said.



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