CB 7 gives approval for hotel in 18-story downtown tower

CB 7 gives approval for hotel in 18-story downtown tower
Photo by Joe Anuta
By Joe Anuta

Community Board 7 held a raucous Monday night meeting where it approved an 18-story hotel in downtown Flushing that will be attached to a nine-story medical center.

The board voted 30-8 to give developer Richard Xia permission to circumvent zoning laws and use his $60 million gleaming glass building, already under construction at 42-31 Union St., as a 161-room hotel.

“By the time this building is done, it’s going to be something everybody likes,” Xia told the members of CB 7.

The medical center will house about 40 doctors’ suites, according to Xia’s lawyer, Vincent Petraro. Xia negotiated a deal with the board to provide 300 parking spaces in a garage under the structure, which is about 100 more than what is required, but those spots will not be built if the application is eventually rejected.

The existing zoning allows for residential use or long-term hotel uses, but the developer is arguing that he will not be able to get a reasonable return on his money and asked the board for what is known as a variance to house a short-term hotel instead. Technically, a patron of a long-term hotel has to stay for at least a month.

“We just want to have that flexibility to be able to rent for less than 30 days,” Petraro said, adding that the units will look the same as a long-term apartment.

The board’s vote is advisory and the decision is ultimately up to the city Board of Standards and Appeals.

Mitchell Ross, the lawyer who wrote the variance application, outlined several reasons why the developer believes he deserves relief from the laws that regulate the use of the building.

First, the irregular shape of the lot and the subpar soil conditions increased construction costs, and income levels around the building are not high enough to make luxury apartments economically feasible, he said.

He also argues in his variance application that flight noise from LaGuardia Airport would deter long-term renters — an argument that could be applied to nearly every block in the downtown Flushing area.

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) sent a representative to express his disapproval, citing complaints about the construction at the site. Several neighbors testified about structural damage to their buildings and excessive noise.

But Avella’s testimony ignited shouting from both Sweeney and CB 7 Chairman Gene Kelty.

“I resent the fact he is not the senator from the district,” Sweeney said.

Kelty and Avella’s aide, Dawa Jung, then had a back-and-forth argument about CB 7 protocol and a disagreement the two had years ago.

Urban planner Paul Graziano, who is also running for City Council, testified against granting the variance, saying the builders brought these conditions on themselves.

“I would just build a smaller building,” he said, arguing that would solve many of Xia’s financial hardships.

But according to Joe Sweeney, chairman of the CB 7 Land Use Subcommittee, the short-term hotel would be the least intrusive. The building’s shape will not change, but short-term guests might drive less and instead take hotel-provided shuttles to the airport and downtown Flushing.

Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at januta@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.