City backs down on controversial special permits for hotels below 14th Street

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Mayor Bill de Blasio on Feb. 1. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

The city has canned a controversial proposal to require special permits for new hotels in Lower Manhattan that many feared would damage the historic character of neighborhoods south of Union Square and led to allegations of Mayor Bill de Blasio granting favors to donors of his presidential campaign.

Due to the changing topography of the city due to COVID-19 and the Department of City Planning approving the proposal at the advent of the pandemic on March 15, Councilman Francisco Moya DCP Commissioner Marisa Lago in October requesting that the application be withdrawn on account of COVID-19 creating dismal changes to everyday life in New York City.

The special permit would put more rigorous restrictions on the establishment of new inns and hotels, a proposal that included a tech hub and zoning change, something rejected by community boards and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

“I’m writing to request a withdrawal of this application which the Commission approved on March 16, 2020.  The Commission approved this application just before the full impact of Covid and the citywide lockdown,” Moya wrote in the email. “As we all know the policy landscape has changed profoundly in the last seven months and we believe it’s important to evaluate our efforts in a citywide context with respect to the regulation of hotels.”

According to the DCP, the agency concurred with Moya, the chairman of Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises telling amNewYork Metro on Tuesday that the plan would be no more considering the ongoing health crisis.

“The Department of City Planning agrees with the City Council that the policy landscape has changed dramatically this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” DCP spokesman Joe Marvilli said. “Evaluating our efforts on the regulation of hotels in a citywide context will help us craft a more responsive proposal to this new environment. Based on our conversations with the City Council, this proposal has been withdrawn.”

It was alleged that de Blasio had pressed this for this application after donations associated with the Hotel Trades Council accounted for up to 70% of his campaign contributions for his brief 2019 run for president. According to Politico, the mayor soon directed the DCP to begin studying the matter.

Andrew Berman, Executive Director of Village Preservation, was not so quick to let elected officials off the hook who were involved with the process of pushing the application through.

“Though presented as such, this plan would never have provided any meaningful protections to the area of Greenwich Village and the East Village south of Union Square, where historic and residential buildings are being destroyed to make way for soulless high-rises,” Berman said. “Now that this deeply unpopular plan has been shelved, we urge Mayor de Blasio and Councilmember Carlina Rivera to truly address the need to protect this neighborhood, its history, and its character.”

According to Berman, Rivera had run for office in 2017 on the promise that she would approve the tech hub but pledged to bring additional protections to neighborhoods.

Rivera’s office declined to comment.

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