By Rich Bockmann
Community members claimed victory last week after a long fight to stop construction of a “hot-sheet motel” near Springfield Gardens High School reached a conclusion they said was much more appropriate for the neighborhood.
City Councilman James Sanders (D-Laurelton) called the gathering after his office had learned the night before that a new developer was to begin construction of a strip mall at the corner of Springfield Boulevard and North Conduit Avenue, putting an end to the struggle.
“For six years this community has stood tall and it has said we don’t want a hot-sheet motel 70 feet from our local high school,” he said, “a hotel that would have some of the sleaziest customers in all of Queens right across from where we send our children to school.”
David Koptiev, the developer, said he planned to finish construction on the building, which would house about five tenants, in about a year.
The future of the site, where a partial foundation has already been laid, had been in question since 2011, when the city Department of Buildings revoked the hotel’s construction permit.
Community members learned that motel developer Saliesh Ghandi had built and owned several pay-by-the-hour, no-tell hotels in Brooklyn and feared the impact one in Springfield Gardens would have, especially in such close proximity to a school.
“Honestly, we knew that it was stopped from last year after we took him to court and we forced the Buildings Department to retract the permit they gave to him,” said community activist Michael Duncan. “But what was to come we wanted to find out. What would be placed here?”
The roadways near John F. Kennedy International Airport are dotted with hotels, but when excavation of a lot more than 2 miles from the airport began for a proposed three-story, 65-room hotel in 2005, neighbors feared the lodge would attract an unwanted clientele.
The neighbors believed they had found their savior in 2008, when a rezoning prohibited the construction of a hotel on the lot and the DOB yanked its construction permit.
Ghandi’s lawyer, however, argued that the developer had already made significant progress on the foundation and the city Board of Standards and Appeals gave the thumbs-up to let the project continue.
Duncan filed a lawsuit he said delayed the project, and in 2011 the Buildings Department pulled the permit, saying Ghandi had not completed construction in enough time.
He quietly sold the property in August, and the community was relieved when construction fences went up last week to learn that a new developer planned to build a strip mall.
William McDonald, president of Advocates for Change, said the victory was an encouraging shot in the arm for a community fighting other fights, such as a plan to extend a runway at JFK.
“We did take up this fight six years ago,” he said. “It shows that change is happening in our community. We are on top of it and we’re going to continue to stay on top of it.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.