A Dunkin’ Donuts on East 14th Street and a Starbucks on Bleecker are joining a grand tradition in New York: food operations with air conditioning and heating units that annoy residents to no end.
Residents near a Dunkin’ Donuts on East 14th Street between avenues A and B have begun complaining about the noise coming from HVAC equipment recently installed on top of the doughnut shop, which is flanked on both sides by apartment buildings.
“It’s annoying,” says Chelsea, a resident of the building who declined to give her last name. “It’s kind of scary at times when I’m alone in the apartment. The street noise tends to quiet down after a certain hour — and we still have to listen to these units.”
In a statement, Dunkin’ Donuts said the HVAC unit was replaced in September and is actually quieter than it used to be.
“The franchisee has advised us that he is currently working with a technician to move an additional compressor unit to reduce the volume even more,” the statement said. “Dunkin’ Donuts is excited to be part of the community and we are committed to resolving the matter with the neighbors.”
There are two complaints currently filed against the Dunkin’ location to the Department of Buildings. One says the fans are blocking the fire escape; the other says that they’re too close to the neighboring buildings to be legal.
Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts’ chief rival in the city’s most-ubiquitous-coffee-shop race, isn’t faring much better with its HVAC installations, either.
On October 23, DNAinfo reported that a “slew” of folks had complained to 311 about the noise of the Starbucks at 239 Bleecker.
And in early October, CBS reported that the air conditioning and refrigeration units at a 7-Eleven on Avenue A and East 11th Street were so loud that the owner ended up in hot water with the Environmental Control Board.
So just how does it happen that these HVAC systems of dubious compliance get installed without the city knowing?
A Department of Buildings spokesman says that most small renovations happen under a program called “professional and owner certification,” in which a licensed professional — namely, a registered architect or contractor professional engineer — can file plans for a project by simply offering their word that all elements of the job comply with fire codes and city regulations.
The city will grant the permits to complete the work up front. But if something is done that is not in compliance with the city’s building codes or environmental regulations (or the law), then the pro is “liable for legal or disciplinary actions.”
For example, misconduct can get reported to other state and city agencies. Pros who violate building codes can get slapped with hefty fines. And the DOB can refuse to allow architects or engineers to submit future plans through the fast-track program.
Permits for both the Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks renovations were granted under this system. There are currently two complaints against the Dunkin’, which a spokesperson says the DOB will be looking into. Meanwhile, the Starbucks will be facing the Environmental Control Board in December to face complaints that its air conditioner is making more than 42 decibels’ worth of noise.
If they’re found not up to code, the companies will have to bring their systems back into compliance.
The spokesman says the DOB won’t automatically revoke a contractor’s fast-track privileges, but rather, is looking for a “pattern of non-compliance.” According to the city’s administrative code, if architects or engineers either “knowingly or negligently” break the rules once, or “otherwise demonstrate incompetence or a lack of knowledge of applicable laws” twice, they can face penalties that, in addition to exclusion from the fast-track program, can include “audits and monitoring of the registered design professional’s applications and other submissions.”
In other words, these probably won’t be the last noisy HVAC units to see the light of day in NYC.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that contractors and architects could self-certify their small renovation plans in New York. In fact, self-certification is an option only for state-licensed architects and engineers. The current version reflects the correct text.