Photo via Department of City Planning

As the city attempts to limit the development of new hotels through a widespread zoning amendment, one Queens community board has voted against it because of one provision it believes undermines the purpose of the proposal.

Community Board 5 voted unanimously against the Department of City Planning’s proposal to require new hotels in light manufacturing (M1) zoning districts to be subject to a special permit review at its June 13 meeting.

Citing a specific provision buried deep within the city’s proposal, Zoning and Land Use Review Committee Chair Walter Sanchez explained that “transient hotels” would be exempt from the special permit review process.

“The committee would typically be in favor of any change to zoning text which allows community input,” Sanchez said. “However, it could be argued that not having private commercial hotels built in an M1 district leaves the land available for the city to take it over, and we worry about that … When the statement spends so much angst stating this type of use hurts the character of the neighborhood, why would they leave it open for transient hotels?”

In the city’s proposed amendment, it explains that M1 districts are currently “well suited” for hotel construction, and that has led to a boom in such construction in the past decade. Across the city, 13 percent of existing hotel rooms are in M1 districts, and 30 percent of hotel rooms slated for development are in M1 districts.

The amendment states that the proliferation of hotels in some of the city’s few remaining vacant or underdeveloped sites could take away from “other uses better equipped to fulfill neighborhood development objectives and needs.”

If the amendment were to pass, it would force new hotel developments in M1 districts to obtain a special permit that has to be approved through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP). That procedure involves input from the community board, borough president, City Planning Commission and City Council.

The amendment would not require transient hotels to undergo that same review, and the Board 5 zoning committee is recommending that the city change that exemption.

Before the unanimous vote, the proposal sparked a discussion amongst the board about how their vote may be perceived with regard to the homelessness crisis. One board member, Sarah Feldman, explained that with the rising cost of housing in the neighborhood, there needs to be more sympathy toward the people who have fallen on hard times and need help getting back on their feet.

“What I want in this conversation is more feeling for the people who have lost something,” Feldman said. “These hotels are being turned into homeless shelters for a very big reason, because of overpopulation.”

When Board 5 Chair Vincent Arcuri responded that the city should then properly apply for a homeless shelter location rather than use a hotel, Feldman said that people still don’t want shelters in general, citing Glendale as an example.

Sanchez added that the committee agrees with Feldman’s sentiment and has recommended two potential locations for shelters in the community already. The board has also established a special committee regarding homeless issues because “we want to understand it, we want to be sensitive to it, we want to be responsible when figuring out where a homeless shelter and services could go,” Sanchez said.

Board 5 Secretary Margaret O’Kane then sought to clarify once and for all the committee’s stance on this proposal.

“The discussion is, on this proposal we don’t like what looks like a sneaky sideways, and that is what we’re objecting to,” O’Kane said. “If we’re going to have a review of what’s going to be built in a place, we should have a review of what’s going to be built regardless … it’s not being hard-hearted.”

In the meantime, there is currently a hotel proposal on file with the Department of Buildings that would be built at 1616 Summerfield St. in Ridgewood.

Other community boards in Queens have already voted in favor of the city’s zoning amendment, and it is still under public review. The City Planning Commission will then hold a public hearing on the amendment, and the commission and City Council will vote on it.

 

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