All booked up: CB1 worries zoning change will push more hotels into crowded Downtown

Very few areas in Downtown would be directly affected by proposed rule changes for M1 zones (orange) but hotel developments pushed out of M1 zones would likely flock to the many as-of-right areas Downtown (light blue).


The city is pushing a zoning change creating more hurdles for hotel developer in the outer boroughs and parts of Manhattan, but Downtowners fear the  move would just push even more hotels into Lower Manhattan.

The zoning amendment would require hotel developers to obtain a special permit through a lengthy public review process before building in manufacturing districts known as M1 zones, where hospitality development has boomed in recent years.

But making it harder to build hotels in those zones will likely have a “spillover” effect on Downtown, where hoteliers can build as of right, according to the co-chair of Community Board 1’s land-use committee, which is crafting a resolution on the city’s proposal.

“Hotel developers will prefer to develop in as-of-right districts, which is most of Community Board 1,” said Reggie Thomas. “So I think that concern will be included in the resolution.”

A large chunk of tony Soho includes M1 zoning, for example, and making hotel development more cumbersome there would make it more likely for new projects to locate a few blocks south below Walker Street, where building would require no special permits or public review.

Record-breaking tourist numbers are fueling a city-wide hotel boom, with most growth concentrated in M1 zones. One in 10 existing hotel rooms are located in M1 zones, as well as a third of all new hotel rooms under construction.

To manage this hostel takeover, the Department of City Planning wants to change zoning rules to require getting a special permit to build hotels in M1 zones through a lengthy public review process called the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP), which entails public hearings and approvals from the local community board, the Borough President, the City Council, and finally the mayor.

The head of the Real Estate Board of New York, John H. Banks, testified against the additional special permit requirements last November, likening the proposal to effectively “banning hotels” from M1 zones, bolstering concerns that developers would divert future projects to as-of-right areas such a Downtown.

In terms of direct effects the zoning changes would have within CB1, one of the only three M1 zones in the area that would be affected includes an small swathe of waterfront near the Staten Island Ferry Terminal, but CB2 and CB3 also include waterfront M1 zones in Two Bridges, the West Village, Chelsea, and Stuyvesant Town where new hotels would be subject to ULURP, and one committee member saw a possibility to leverage the additional approval process to garner some elusive funding for Lower Manhattan’s ambitious resiliency projects.

Laura Starr, said any hotel development in M1 zones along the waterfront should be a part of a “wider integrated resiliency effort,” and perhaps put money into the flood-protection effort. And Thomas thinks the idea is worth raising with the city.

“Something my mother taught me is that you don’t get what you don’t ask for,” Thomas said. “It doesn’t hurt to ask and make it clear that we want to make sure that the city focuses on resiliency.”

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