In Wake of Rezoning, Hotel Asks for Exception
by Jeffrey Harmatz
Nov 26, 2008 | 1520 views | 0 0 comments | 35 35 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Though the rezoning process has come and gone for the Dutch Kills section of Long Island City, neighbors still find themselves defending their neighborhood from out-of-scale developments.

The contentious rezoning, which was fought for by residential community members and opposed by area business owners, established stricter development guidelines for the mixed-use neighborhood that was being overwhelmed by 20-story hotels next to two- and three-story homes and businesses when it was passed by City Council earlier this year. But now, developers who raced to beat the rezoning deadline are asking the city for special permission to continue their projects, even though they are not in compliance with the new rezoning.

The hotel, which is being developed by Wilshire Hospitality, LLC, was proposed as a 14-story, 60,000-square-foot building at 29-23 40th Road before the zoning took effect on October 7. Under the new rezoning, the building would have to be several stories smaller.

When a new zoning takes effect, buildings that have 80 percent their foundations laid are typically allowed to continue with their project as-of-right. But in certain cases, if the developer can prove that a significant amount of time and money has been invested into the project and that the developer would face significant financial loss if their project is not completed under the former zoning specifications, exceptions can be made by the Board of Standards and Appeals 9BSA).

Wilshire Hospitality was not able to complete 80 percent of their foundation, and filed an appeal to continue with their development. As part of the appellate process, the developer is required to present their appeal to the local community board, which provides a recommendation to the BSA. At last Tuesday’s meeting, CB1 heard Wilshire Hospitality’s appeal.

The board was not receptive to the developer’s pleas, voting not to recommend the appeal, but not before words were exchanged between the developer’s attorneys, the members of the board, and Dutch Kills residents.

The appeal indicates that 43 percent of the hotel’s foundation is complete, including the driving of the piles, which is considered to be the most time-consuming and expensive portion of building the foundation, and that the developer has already spent more than $7 million on the development, which is nearly half of the projected $17 million cost.

The developer’s appeal also indicates that Wilshire Hospitality will face significant financial losses if they are not permitted to build to the previously allowed dimensions, due to the loss of a contract with Marriott.

“Please don’t reward these people for rushing their development,” said resident Megan Dees Friedman. “They had cement trucks rushing down the wrong side of our streets so that they could beat the rezoning. If this appeal is approved, it will set a precedent for other developers to work around the rezoning.”

A statement made on behalf of Jerry Walsh, president of the Dutch Kills Civic Association, the organization that spearheaded the rezoning process, was also critical of the appeal.

“This developer has not made substantial progress. Forty-three percent of a foundation is not enough, and this hardship is self created,” the statement read. “You knew full well that creating a foundation between August and October was almost impossible.”

Councilman Eric Gioia offered his dismissal of the developer’s appeal in both a statement to the community board and a letter to the BSA.

“The reason new zoning laws were passed was to protect the character of the neighborhood while also allowing for smart economic growth, particularly residential growth,” the councilman said. “Now that the new zoning laws have been enacted, developers must adhere to the new regulations and not be granted loopholes.

“Prior to its approval in October, the Dutch Kills rezoning had been in the works for over three years,” continued Gioia. “Developers who rushed to complete the 80 percent of the foundation needed to be grandfathered into the old rezoning should not be rewarded for almost making it.”

The board ultimately denied to recommend the appeal, but it is the BSA that has the final say. Their decision on the matter is expected before the end of the year.

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