City’s special hotel permits plan for south of Union Square gets chilly reception at CB2 meeting

Some people at the meeting held up signs against the special hotel permit plan. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

BY GABE HERMAN | The city’s proposed plan to require special permits for hotels below Union Square “misses the mark,” according to locals.

The plan, which was was presented at a Community Board 2 meeting on Nov. 13, was met with criticism and skepticism from the committee and members of the public.

The plan would require special permits for new hotels to be approved by both the City Planning Commission and City Council, between East Ninth Street to East 14th Street, and Third Avenue to Fifth Avenue. Matthew Pietrus, a city planner at the Department of City Planning (DCP) showed photos of the area and said it had a mixed-use character.

Pietrus said in his presentation that because the area is relatively small and does not have much vacancy, “we don’t think there would be an undue increase in commercial development.”

An area below Union Square would require special permits for new hotels, represented on this map from the presentation as “Subdistrict B.” (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Andrew Berman, the executive director of Village Preservation, blasted the plan when it was released last month and said that even if big hotels aren’t approved in the new process, the plan would still allow for new office towers to be built.

The committee asked Pietrus about a Nov. 12 letter from Berman, addressed to City Planning, Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), Councilmember Carlina Rivera and Mayor Bill de Blasio, which argued that there were flaws in the city’s Environmental Assessment Statement for the plan, including missing and inaccurate information about the historic significance of buildings in the area.

Pietrus said that the letter had just come out the previous day, but that City Planning would look at it with LPC and see if potential changes might be made to the designation of buildings based on evidence presented.

Several committee members noted that although Pietrus said there is currently little vacancy in the area, the recently opened Moxy Hotel was built after tearing down several old buildings, which had rent-stabilized apartments.

Former CB2 Chair Tobi Bergman urged the committee to reject the proposal. “It misses the mark in terms of what this community needs,” he said.

Berman argued that many small businesses and stores had been wiped out from previous destruction of buildings. While there is nothing wrong in itself with a special permit for hotels, Bergman stated, the plan would kick the can down the road for what is really needed to protect the neighborhood, and allow it to lose its character.

“The real threat is expansion of Midtown, through Union Square and Broadway, into Tribeca,” Bergman said, to applause from most of the people in attendance.

Andrew Berman spoke at the meeting, saying the plan gave the community none of what it wants. “It’s not half a loaf, it’s no loaf whatsoever,” he said.

A view up Broadway, just south of Union Square. (Photo by Gabe Herman)

Berman reiterated that the city’s own analysis of the plan said that even if new hotels aren’t approved, it would pave the way for office buildings of equal size to be built. He said that although his recent letter had just gone out the previous day pointing out new evidence of historical significance in the area, Village Preservation had previously pointed out plenty of evidence that had not been acted on with landmarking.

“They’re willfully ignoring what this neighborhood wants and what it needs,” Berman said. “What you need to come back to us with is real protections for the neighborhood.”

He called on Councilmember Rivera to push for more protections of the area.

Rivera has been supportive of the city plan, telling this paper in October when it was announced, “We’re glad that the Department of City Planning listened to the calls from the community and our office and is finally enacting solutions to address out-of-scale commercial developments, in this case with a hotel special permit.”

In the same statement, Rivera called on the city to also consider other options to limit development and keep businesses in context with the communities, including a Special Commercial District in the East Village.

At the CB2 meeting, Berman said of the plan, “We say to DCP this does nothing for us. We need landmarking now.”

When Committee Co-Chair Frederica Sigel asked how many people in the room agreed with Berman, nearly everyone’s hand went up. The room was asked if anyone disagreed with Berman, and one woman spoke, saying the city has an increasing population, and while landmarking is important, every neighborhood should do its share to add some development. She added that everything can’t be landmarked.

The Land Use Committee voted unanimously at the meeting to reject the proposed plan.