Council expected to pass measure limiting after-hours construction noise

The city’s humming construction industry may be in for a demur remix.

A bill empowering the city’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to quell after-hours construction noise was voted out of a Council committee Monday. Councilman Ben Kallos, who sponsored the measure, expected his colleagues to approve the measure at a scheduled meeting on Tuesday.

“New Yorkers hate getting woken up early or kept up late at night with construction,” Kallos said, noting that noise concerns are the most common complaint logged in the city’s 3-1-1 system. “[The DEP] actually agreed and worked with us on this legislation that makes a huge update to the city’s noise code.”

A department spokesman indicated that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration supports the measure.

If passed, new construction projects would need to abide by a lower sound limit when working after hours — before 7 a.m. or after 6 p.m. — during the business week and anytime on weekends. Crews are currently not permitted to make noise above 85 decibels within 200 feet of a residence, but that limit would drop to 80 decibels next year, and 75 decibels in 2020, Kallos said.

The councilman estimated this would halve the allowable volume of construction din. According to the National Institutes of Health, sustained, repeated exposure to sounds “at or above 85 decibels can cause hearing loss.” A normal conversation has a decibel level around 60 decibels.

Additionally, the measure would make it easier for DEP inspectors to examine noise complaints by no longer forcing them to schedule appointments inside the homes of those who complain. Instead, inspectors could measure the decibel level on the street and issue violations and stop-work orders on specific pieces of equipment, if appropriate.

“[The DEP] had to make an appointment with the person to come in their home to take a measurement with the doors and windows closed,” Kallos said. “Now if DEP finds a violation, it will be over and done with.”

Kallos noted that the legislation will task the DEP with crafting rules specifying how long inspectors have to respond to complaints about after-hours work and which grievances ought to be prioritized because the noises are expected to continue. A DEP spokesman said the rulemaking process typically takes six months to one year.

Denise Richardson, executive director of the General Contractors Association of New York, said the construction contractors’ group appreciated the city’s efforts to balance community noise concerns while still allowing for after-hours construction.

But the real estate industry’s chief lobbying group, The Real Estate Board of New York, worried that the new sound limits were overly restrictive, noting that they forbid noise levels comparable to those caused by a passing diesel truck.

REBNY argued the new limits may deter after-hours construction work enough to slow the pace of construction for community priorities such as affordable housing developments.