Searching for safety at 60 Hudson and beyond


This week’s decision by the Board of Standards and Appeals to legalize the illegal storage of diesel fuel at 60 Hudson St. highlights the desperate need for the city to take a first look at how best to regulate telecom buildings. That was the reaction of the Tribeca group that led the fight against the building, Neighbors against NOISE, which is right once again.

A front page New York Times article four years ago led to the revelation of the illegal diesel fuel storage at 60 Hudson. There are other buildings in the city with excessive amounts of diesel, but 60 Hudson St. is the only address we know for sure. The Dept. of Buildings, prudently, has not revealed any other locations. But the agency’s disturbing behavior at the one building we know about should be a wakeup call to everyone. This issue can’t be ignored any longer.

The diesel is for the backup generators needed in telecoms. We support City Councilmember Alan Gerson and several of his colleagues in their efforts to explore legislation to recognize the reality that telecom buildings are not like commercial office buildings and need different zoning laws. The question of how and if buildings with large amounts of diesel stored above ground can safely exist in residential neighborhoods needs to be debated vigorously in the Council. Christine Quinn, the Council’s speaker, whose district borders the one with 60 Hudson, should make it clear tomorrow that this is a front burner issue – no pun intended we assure you.

The Dept. of Buildings has failed miserably in what should have been one of its goals – convincing neighbors that there would be enough fire precautions to make it safe to live near 60 Hudson. Officials met in secret for years with the building’s owner, GVA Williams, while Tribecans were left to wonder. Once Buildings granted the diesel permit, it continued its adversarial relationship with the community.

The B.S.A. approached the issue with healthy skepticism at the beginning, but the board’s fairness came into serious question a few weeks ago when it agreed to a private tour of the building with GVA without inviting any NAN representatives. That seems to contradict a bedrock tenet of our whole legal system and if the B.S.A. decision is ever challenged in court, the board’s stacked meeting may not be viewed kindly by a judge.

It is our hope the safety precautions implemented by Buildings and GVA will be enough, but given their record of the last few years, we have reason to be doubtful. Now that they have “won,” they have nothing to lose by going out of their way to convince neighbors that there has been too much worrying and things will be much safer than people think.

We won’t hold our breath on that one, but we do expect the Council to move quickly and carefully on figuring out how to protect residential New York neighborhoods with telecom hotels in their midst.