Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Barclays Center agrees to pay $3200 fine for bass leakage into neighborhood from Swedish House Mafia show; sound was twice as loud as allowed

After six months of periodic complaints that the Barclays Center was operating as a neighborhood sub-woofer, sending bass rumbling into apartments blocks away, the arena yesterday finally paid a fine.

Two potential fines for noise violations during the Sensation show in October had been dismissed on technicalities, but an arena official yesterday agreed to pay $3200 for a reading twice the allowable limits during the 3/2/13 Swedish House Mafia show.

In a very brief hearing before the city's Environmental Control Board, Administrative Law Judge Scott Kegelman read the content of the violation at right, then asked a Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) lawyer if there was a stipulation.

Yes, the lawyer said, "in the amount of $3200."

"Accepted?" asked Kegelman of Jeffrey Gewirtz, the Barclays Center's Chief Legal Officer.

"Yes," responded Gewirtz.

"No defense claimed?" asked Kegelman.

"No defense," confirmed Gewirtz.

While Kegelman was seemingly asking about a procedural issue--would the arena offer any counter-evidence?--his question also brought up whether the Barclays Center could justify the bass leakage from bottom-heavy shows beginning with the Jay-Z concerts that opened the arena at the end of September.

It hasn't. Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, responding to my tweet in late October citing ""Loud, wall shaking noise from event" Again? Explanation?, claimed that "we are looking into it and we take the concerns very seriously."

How loud was it?

Note that the reading in the above violation of 55 decibels for low frequency noise (bass) is not simply 22% greater than the allowable limit of 45 decibels.

(The reading was taken inside the Newswalk condominium on Pacific Street a half block east of the arena. In the image at right, Newswalk is outlined in red. Note that no other building besides the arena has been constructed, and the arena as built is smaller, and shifted slightly farther away from Sixth Avenue compared to the image.) 

A 10 decibel increase is about twice as loud as permitted. Similarly, the proposed Sensation violation, though ultimately dismissed, appeared twice as loud as permitted.

The Swedish House Mafia concerts, over three days, were each quite noisy. On 3/3/13, one resident wrote, "More bass from tonight's concert. Seems to be louder than last night."

Another affirmed, "Even louder than yesterdays concert." Another asked, "Why can’t the city do something NOW to shut this down?"

But complaints had surfaced much earlier. As one resident wrote 10/1/12 on Atlantic Yards Watch, "The concert last night was clearly audible from inside my apartment, even with the windows closed."

Even New York Times architecture critic Michael Kimmelman, in his 11/1/13 review of the arena, wrote, "The sound system needs adjusting, and alarming reports have surfaced via the local watchdog-blogger Norman Oder from neighbors complaining about noise and vibrations."

Can fines stop noise? Or something else?

The adjustment hasn't happened yet. For a neighborhood bar, a $3200 fine for a noise violation can cause pocketbook pain. For an arena earning millions from concerts tickets and concessions, it may be the cost of doing business, especially if they can fend off some fines with procedural arguments.

Does the DEP have the capacity to increase penalties to deter future noise violations from the arena? I understand that it does, though I couldn't get any elaboration from the agency late yesterday.

What about arena developer and chief operator Forest City Ratner? While representatives have announced unspecified efforts to ameliorate the situation, they didn't get back to me late yesterday. The issue should be raised at the next Atlantic Yards Quality of Life meeting, Tuesday, May 7.

Still, they have strong business reasons to get things fixed. Forget mollifying neighbors down the block. The first Atlantic Yards apartment tower, B2, opens in August 2014, built flush against the arena. It would be hard to rent market-rate units when there's boom-boom in the living room.

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