BSA upholds fuel storage in Western Union Building

Tribeca building’s 65 fuel tanks store more than 100,000 gallons. In 2002, the Department of Buildings issued violations to Hudson Telegraph Associates after inspectors found fifteen 275-gallon fuel storage tanks on six floors of the Western Union Building, an individual and interior City landmark located at 60 Hudson Street in Tribeca, Manhattan. The code only permits one 275-gallon tank on each story above the first floor. The 24-story, 1.2 million-square-foot Art Deco building houses telecommunications switchboards that serve a large portion of the northeast and require fuel reserves in case of power outages. Overall, the building contained 65 tanks with a 101,521- gallon capacity, less than permitted as-of-right. About 6,875 gallons of diesel fuel were maintained above the first floor.

legalize the tanks’ location, explaining that the floors required multiple tanks since several different telecommunication tenants needed storage tanks, and lease limitations provided no alternative locations. After a two-year review, Buildings issued a variance legalizing the tanks based on the practical difficulties of complying with the code. The variance, granted after consultation with the FDNY, fire safety consultants, and elected officials, stipulated that Hudson employ 25 specific safety measures crafted to address the need to manually refill and transport the fuel and to also deal with storage, delivery and potential spills.

A coalition of local residents called the Neighbors Against Noxious Odors, Incessant Sounds and Emissions applied to BSA to overturn the variance, arguing that Buildings acted arbitrarily by considering only the affected floors instead of the total amount of fuel stored at 60 Hudson Street. Represented by Norman Siegel, Neighbors claimed that Hudson did not suffer practical difficulties and failed to obtain Landmarks’ approval for the tanks. Neighbors also argued that the total amount of fuel at 60 Hudson qualified the site as an illegal Bulk Oil Fuel Plant, which, under the code, was prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school or subway or within 250 feet of a public park or residential zone. They claimed that the building was inherently dangerous due to its proximity to three subway lines, Buckle My Shoe nursery, Duane Park, and many residential buildings. Finally, Neighbors argued that Buildings failed to consider the building’s ability to withstand sabotage or terrorist attacks.

Community Board 1 supported the appeal, testifying that, since the tanks were visible from inside and outside, it required Landmarks’ approval.

At the first of four BSA hearings, Buildings’ General Counsel Phyllis Arnold defended Buildings’ decision, arguing that the cumulative amount of fuel permitted in the building was as-of-right under the code and that the variance merely allowed more fuel on certain floors and less on others. Arnold further argued that the building’s concrete structure, large, 50,000-square-foot floor plates and the required safety measures minimized the hazardous condition.

Fire expert Glen Corbett, who testified in favor of Neighbors, argued that the variance created a dangerous condition. Buildings granted it under an antiquated code, which it was in the process of revising. Corbett explained that the new code would prohibit Hudson’s exception, making the variance hazardous to the neighborhood, and no amount of safety measures would eliminate the potential for human error during manual refill.

Hudson responded that nonmanual refill was not viable and potentially less safe. Hudson also submitted materials showing Landmarks’ approval.

BSA held three additional hearings on June 7, September 15 and October 17. After analyzing the building’s infrastructure, the combustible temperature of diesel fuel, and the methods used to fill the tanks, BSA upheld Buildings’ decision, but required two additional conditions: a cooling system for the fuel rooms and a tank-fill limit of 80 percent.

BSA found Buildings’ review of Hudson’s variance to be cautious, judicious, and adequately counseled by outside parties and that Hudson had obtained sufficient approval from Landmarks. The building was not a Bulk Oil Fuel Plant, Hudson suffered practical difficulties, and Buildings was not required to explicitly consider the dangers of deliberate sabotage, according to the BSA decision. Finally, BSA noted that it had no authority to rule upon code revisions that were not yet in effect, especially since there was no evidence that the new code would prohibit the variance.

BSA: 60 Hudson Street (174-05-A) (Oct. 17, 2006) (Norman Siegel, for N.O.I.S.E.; Phyllis Arnold, for DOB). CITYADMIN

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