Volume 75, Number 31 | December 21 - 27, 2005

Complaints heard about proposed city noise code

By Albert Amateau

The Bloomberg administration’s proposed new city noise code heard at the City Council Environmental Committee last week inspired some loud criticism from Councilmember Alan Jay Gerson and Neighbors Against NOISE, a Tribeca environmental group, as well as the New York Nightlife Association.

The new Intro 397A, a 40-page document, came to the committee on Wed. Dec. 14, with revisions added only the day before to the original bill introduced at the beginning of this year. It was scheduled to come to the full Council’s last meeting of the year on Dec. 21.

“The bill has several deficiencies in addition to the fact that we only got the revised version the day before the hearing,” said Gerson. “We certainly need a new noise code but we need to get it right. This is a very technical document,” he added.

Speaking for the New York Nightlife Association, attorney Robert Bookman said there was no reason to rush the code through the legislative process. “This is a once-in-a-generation legislation,” he said, adding, “It’s so technical that if you ask 10 people what it would do, you’d get 10 different opinions.” The code has not had a significant revision for 30 years.

Gerson said the proposed code, which would go into effect a year after adoption, has a loophole that makes it easier for projects to get permits for after-hours construction work. The code, however, includes a general construction prohibition on weekends and on weekdays before 7 a.m. and after 8 p.m.

Lee Compton, chairperson of Community Board 4 where more than 20 nightlife establishments are concentrated on five square blocks centered on 10th Ave. in the mid-20s, said in prepared testimony that the new code was welcome, but that there were problems.

“We’re especially concerned with the section that deals with after-hours and weekend construction permits,” said Compton’s statement delivered at the hearing by J.D. Nolan, C.B. 4 vice chairperson. “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,” the C.B. 4 statement said.

“We wish that the code could be amended to deal more effectively with noisy outdoor commercial establishments. Over all, we are pleased with the proposed revisions to the code and commend you on the hard work that clearly went into it,” the Board 4 statement said.

Nevertheless, the code does authorize 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.

Gerson, however, found a problem with the motorcycle noise provision of Intro 397A. The proposed code says motorcycle noise may not be audible above ambient sound as measured from 200 feet away from the source. “That’s much too close,” Gerson said, adding, “The code makes no mention about the kinds of mufflers that can be used on a vehicle.” Gerson also said the code does not adequately address other street-level noise.

The lack of provisions about noise from party boats and inadequate enforcement provisions were other problems with the code, according to Gerson. Noise levels from rooftop cafes and courtyard patios also need to be addressed, Gerson said.

Gerson and Tim Lannan, president of Neighbors Against NOISE, which has been protesting the unrelenting sound from 60 Hudson St. where telecommunications business tenants run air conditioners 24/7 to cool delicate electronic switches, insisted the code would not improve the noise level of the Tribeca neighborhood.

The proposed code, which would go into effect a year from its adoption, 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.

While the code says that any such device installed prior to the effective date cannot exceed 42 decibels, it goes on to say that if the cumulative level of all devices in the building exceeds 50 decibels, the Department of Environmental Protection may order the owner to reduce the sound by 5 decibels to 45 decibels within 12 months.

But Marolyn Davenport, spokesperson for the Real Estate Board of New York — the city’s leading real estate industry organization — told the Council that the new decibel level of 45 was more reasonable than the 42 decibels specified in the original Intro 397A. She also said the Real Estate Board looks forward to working with D.E.P. on establishing rules for implementing the new code.

In a statement prepared after the hearing last week, 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 acknowledged. “If it is impossible to measure noise produced by one tenant, it is impossible to enforce the code,” he added.

Lannan also noted 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 said the bill should also regulate the noise level contributed to the overall sound by equipment other than circulation devices — specifically backup diesel-fueled emergency generators.

Gerson said he would continue working with the city to craft a sorely needed new noise code. “Livability first. We need to strengthen the code,” he said.

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