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Guess what: Atlantic Yards environmental review didn't assess whether arena noise might penetrate the neighborhood or adjoining towers (though some assessment was apparently done for business reasons)

How about that giant neighborhood sub-woofer, the arena that provoked a (proposed) fine for leaking bass?

It sure doesn't look like the environmental review for the Atlantic Yards project ever assessed the potential for arena-related noise--such as bass from the Jay-Z and Sensation concerts--to penetrate residences either within the project site or down the street, much less blocks away.

That's a lapse--apparently a permissible one--in the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS). And it appears to be a flaw in the arena design--one that Forest City Ratner is apparently trying to remedy, though the developer won't issue a progress report yet.

Either way, the state override of zoning to place a sports facility up against a residential neighborhood surely raises the stakes, as does the plan for residential towers immediately adjacent to the structure. The latter plan, far more than a proposed $3,200 fine, is most likely to provoke adjustments.

You might think the pending, court-ordered Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) would require such an evaluation, but don't bet on it, since the only noise impacts assessed relate to traffic and construction.

City and state guidance apparently requires no evaluation of the potential for noise from a enclosed facility to penetrate neighboring buildings.

Why not? I'd guess because it's just not supposed to happen.

What the FEIS said

Chapter 15, Noise, of the FEIS, cited "noise attenuation values for new buildings... based on exterior noise levels," including "both project-generated traffic and construction." Not arena operations.

The "project buildings would include both double-glazed windows and central air-conditioning," both of which "would provide a minimum of 35 dBA attenuation," thus lowering interior levels below 45 dBA.

Neither double-glazed windows now air conditioning have stopped the bass from reaching arena neighbors.

There's no mention of stationary sources in the chapter, but, then again, the official guidance only addresses stationary sources that are open to the air, as noted below.

The project consultant

There are surely business reasons for the developer to analyze noise and vibration issues, and a consultant called Cerami states that it did so:
Cerami provided acoustical and vibration consulting for the new Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn, NY which includes an 800,000 gsf multi-use arena, a mixed-use tower, three residential towers, and above and below grade parking garages, sited on approximately 7.25 acres.
The arena is set in a busy urban setting near the Atlantic Avenue-Pacific Street subway station and the Long Island Rail Road terminal in Brooklyn, one of the most transit-accessible locations in the New York City. Due to the location, vibration isolation was of the utmost importance.
In addition, it was critical that the residential towers be isolated both from train vibration, as well as sound breakout from, and into, the arena. In order to assess the noise levels from arena events, we conducted benchmark testing of a variety of event types from rock concerts to basketball games. Using this, combined with predictive software, we were able to to establish a baseline by which we were able to establish minimal criteria to provide appropriate sound for arena interiors, as well as facade, roof, and construction details to minimize impact to the adjacent spaces.
(Emphasis added)

That work, as of yet, does not appear to be super-successful. Or, perhaps, it's just stale. The Cerami web site states that the client was original architect Frank Gehry rather than Gehry's successors, Ellerbe Becket (now part of AECOM) and SHoP.

What the SEIS should cover

In her July 2011 decision on a challenge to the state's failure to study the potential of a 25-year project buildout, state Supreme Court Justice Marcy Friedman ordered "preparation of a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement assessing the environmental impacts of delay in Phase II construction of the Project; the conduct of further environmental review proceedings pursuant to SEQRA in connection with the SEIS, including a public hearing if required by SEQRA; and further findings on whether to approve the MGPP for Phase II of the Project."

The key issue involves the impacts from delayed construction, not the impacts from an arena that sometimes operates as a neighborhood sub-woofer.

What's required

Such assessment of sound is apparently not required.

According to the CEQR (City Environmental Quality Review) Technical Manual, which "assists city agencies, project sponsors, and the public in conducting environmental reviews," the chapter on Noise (revised as of this June) does mention the possibility of Stationary Noise:
Stationary sources of noise do not move in relation to a noise-sensitive receptor. Typical stationary noise  sources of concern for CEQR include machinery or mechanical equipment associated with industrial and manufacturing operations; or building heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning systems. In addition, noise produced by crowds of people within a defined location, such as children in playgrounds or spectators attending concerts or sporting events and noise produced by concerts or by announcements using amplification systems, are considered stationary sources.
(Emphasis added)

Yes, noise produced by concerts would count. But lower down, the guidance implies that only outdoor events could cause problems:
While people are not usually thought of as stationary noise sources, children in playgrounds or spectators at outdoor sporting events or concerts may cause annoyance in communities. Instantaneous crowd noise levels at outdoor events may exceed 90 dB(A). In addition, measurements taken at 10 school playground sites in 1987 concluded that maximum Leq(1) levels at school playground boundaries in the New York City area are 75 dB(A). The equations for calculating playground noise may be obtained from DEP. Potential noise impacts due to amplification systems at outdoor concert or performance facilities, ballparks, amusement facilities, etc., may be avoided if the system is properly designed and operated (see Section 333).
Potential solutions

What are the solutions? Section 333 advises proper research:
In all cases, rather than using theoretical modeling techniques, it is preferable to use actual facility data. Therefore, if a facility comparable to the proposed project can be measured, and its levels can be adjusted to account for differences in conditions between its site and the proposed project site, that is generally a preferred modeling approach.
Or add something at the building to muffle the sound, turn down the volume, or even move "the source in question":
The most common mitigation measures available for stationary sources include exterior building attenuation (as discussed for mobile sources in Subsection 511 above), barrier erection (as discussed above), and noise control design on the source in question. Caution should be exercised when erecting barriers in New York City given the limitations mentioned above. In many cases, treating the noise source (i.e., providing baffles, silencers, mufflers, sound insulation, placing it within an enclosed structure,  etc.) may be the least expensive option. Moving the source in question so that receptors would not be significantly affected is also a potential mitigation measure. 
(Emphasis added)

In the 2001 Technical Manual, which was in force during the 2006 environmental review for Atlantic Yards, the chapter on Noise has the same text noted above.

No, "moving the source in question" is not on the table. They're not moving the arena. But perhaps some kind of muffler will be applied.

Forest City Ratner surely has an incentive, not merely to mollify arena neighbors but to ensure that future residents of towers adjacent to the arena--their future tenants--aren't outraged.


  1. There is no need for complicated noise-abatement solutions. The problem can be fixed in five seconds. FCR needs to turn down the volume. If need be, the physical volume controls can have limiters installed. Courts can and do order this kind of remediation. Why is it still too loud? Because FCR DOESN'T CARE, and isn't being forced to remediate. Certainly FCR's lease with the State requires it to be law-abiding.

    George L


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