Volume 20, Number 28 | The Newspaper of Lower Manhattan | November 23 - 30, 2007

60 Hudson bollards confirms the building’s ‘lie,’ C.B. 1 says

By Julie Shapiro

In an unusually biting resolution, Community Board 1 censured the owners of 60 Hudson St. last month for not acknowledging the building’s safety hazards.

The resolution, which originated in the Landmarks Committee, purportedly dealt with the telecom hotel’s application for bronze bollards, but the community board’s years of frustration about safety issues showed through.

“The application itself gives the lie to years of the building management pontification to the neighborhood…that 60 Hudson St. is benign and safe, not a security risk, and needing no special protections,” the resolution states.

The building houses sensitive electronic equipment that requires backup generators, which in turn require large quantities of diesel fuel stored in the building. Last year, the Board of Standards and Appeals upheld a Department of Buildings variance to allow fuel storage above the ground floor with additional fire protections.

But many community members are not satisfied with the outcome.

“It’s a disaster waiting to happen,” said Roger Byrom, co-chairperson of the Landmarks Committee.

Brian Maddox, spokesperson for the building, would not specify the amount of fuel in the building, but said it has not risen since last disclosed. Previously, the building contained over 80,000 gallons of fuel, of which 6,530 gallons were stored above street level under the exception granted by the variance. Also, the variance permits the owners to fill tanks by hand rather than piping fuel into the building, the standard procedure.

The diesel fuel is a particular concern after fuel stored in 7 World Trade Center ignited on Sept. 11, 2001.

During public hearings, GVA Williams, 60 Hudson St.’s owners, maintained that the building was safe, so Byrom found the owners’ request for security bollards to be a form of vindication.

“We’ve been saying all along that the building is not safe,” he said. “The security being put there is an acknowledgment of that.”

Deborah Allen, vice president of Neighbors Against NOISE, which was set up to combat 60 Hudson St. problems, agreed.

“It’s a concession that the building is a terrorist target and that it is a danger,” she said of the bollard installation.

However, Maddox said the bollards don’t mean that at all.

“Every major building has [bollards],” he said. “It’s commonplace in the city — it doesn’t mean the building is unsafe.” Maddox added that 60 Hudson St. has been thoroughly reviewed by a number of city agencies. “There is no cause to be worried about the use of fuel in the building.”

C.B. 1 did approve the outdoor bollards “in the absurd context of pure aesthetics, divorced from any rational content,” according to the resolution. However, the board vetoed the interior bollards because they “mar one of the most breathtaking Art Deco lobbies in Manhattan.”

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission approved both sets of bollards, an agency spokesperson said. They have not yet been installed.

Neighbors Against NOISE is also concerned about the noise from the generators and other equipment. The city’s new noise code, passed several years ago, went into effect July 1, 2007.

“We are going to exercise our new rights as of July 1,” said NOISE member Bruce Ehrmann. “Much of their building is now in noncompliance of the new noise law. We will utilize the new noise law to fullest extent, and we will see to it that that building stays within the new legal limits.”

The building managers are implementing a noise mitigation strategy, Maddox said, but he declined to describe it other than saying it involves “various baffle technologies.”

“We are very familiar with the new legislation,” Maddox said. “Part of the [building’s new] sound program serves to assure compliance…to the noise code.”

Several problems with the law will make it difficult to enforce, Allen said. Existing tenants are grandfathered in, and while they will have to reduce their noise output, they will not be held to the higher standards of new tenants. Also, the standards are not strict enough to bring violators down to an acceptable level, she said.

So, to address the noise from the generators, N.A.N. went directly to one of the companies with equipment housed in the building, Allen said. Though that company is technically in compliance with the law, its engineers are still looking at ways to reduce the noise of the generators.

Councilmember Alan Gerson is working on legislation to more stringently ban the hand-filling of fuel tanks. He will introduce it on Nov. 28 at the stated council meeting, and the next step after that will be to hold hearings, Gerson’s office said.

When the B.S.A. upheld the variance granted to 60 Hudson St., the owners were required to make $5.5 million in fire safety improvements. These have included fire-resistant walls enclosing tank and generator rooms, heat and smoke alarms and sprinklers, Maddox said. Also, a certified fire safety director is on hand 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“The building fully complies with all safety requirements,” Maddox said. “It is safe.”

Ehrmann and NOISE aren’t buying it.

“[Sixty Hudson St.] is a vulnerable, dangerous telecommunications behemoth in a residential neighborhood,” Ehrmann said. “There’s nothing about that building that should be in what is now a residential neighborhood.”

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